A proposed amendment to the New Jersey Constitution (SCR-107), sponsored by Senators Jennifer Beck and Stephen Sweeney, establishing an open space program for New Jersey, has cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The bill reduces property taxes on privately held lands that are capable of being subdivided and permanently preserved as open space, and establishes rules for preservation of open space.

 “During my time in the Senate,” said Beck, “I have been working to repair New Jersey’s farmland assessment laws that permit decreases of property taxes of up to 98% for actively devoted agricultural land. Unfortunately we know that some of that land is receiving the generous tax break even though it is not a real farm. Additionally, New Jersey, unlike surrounding states, has used its farmland assessment law to preserve open space, and that is really the wrong mechanism.”

The program created by this Constitutional Amendment, if approved by the Legislature and the voters, provides an incentive for private land owners to consider preservation of green space within their community rather than selling a desirable parcel to a developer. The program applies to parcels of five acres or more that could be subdivided and developed under existing zoning and land use laws and regulations. To be eligible for the property tax reduction, land owners must donate all development rights to a government or non-profit entity.

Eligible lands would be valued for property tax purposes at the lesser of: (1) the value of the land as utilized for conservation or recreation purposes, (2) 50% of the restricted value of the land after the donation of development rights.

“Other states, including our neighbors Pennsylvania and New York,” Beck continued, “have separate statutes governing their open space program and their agricultural program. It’s time New Jersey made the distinction as well.”

Currently New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Law states that if a property owner owns 5 acres of farmable land, they must earn an income of $500 from an agricultural product grown/raised on the land in order to be eligible for a tax break. Beck has introduced legislation (S-744) that would raise the minimum to $1,000 annually, and make several other changes. There has been a public outcry against those who use farmland assessment tax breaks for illegitimate farms.