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Henderson v. Planning Board of the Township of Southampton

A-2783-07T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING; FARMLANDS — Even though an owner might, in the future, sell some or all of potentially subdivided farm lots, so long as there is an intent to preserve the agricultural use of its land and not the intention to develop the land as a residential community, a farmer is entitled to minor subdivision approval.

The owner of thirty-three acres of land had been using its land for six years, from the time of its purchase as a working farm dedicated to raising horses and growing hay. The property was in a rural residential zone that allowed both farm operations and single-family dwellings on the property. For thirteen years, the property had been assessed as farmland for property tax purposes.

The owner submitted an application for minor subdivision approval. In it, he sought to create two additional farming lots. He indicated that a residence might eventually be built on the two new lots, but such a residence would be subordinate or incidental to the agricultural activity. In fact, he offered to deed-restrict the three parcels to agricultural use provided that the option of building one house on each lot was preserved. The only witness before the board was the owner. There was no opposition from any member of the public. At the end of the application hearing, the board denied the application. In its resolution, it memorialized its finding that the overall intent and purpose of the application was for a proposed future residential development and not for agricultural purposes.

The owner sued to challenge the board’s denial. The lower court found the board’s denial to be arbitrary and capricious based upon there being no evidence in the record to support the denial. The court indicated that it would be unfair for the board to assume that because a house could be built to accommodate owners in an agricultural pursuit, then the primary purpose must be residential. It noted that the owner had agreed to deed-restrict the property for agricultural purposes. Thus, it reversed the board’s denial and permitted the agricultural subdivision.

The board appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed. It observed undisputed evidence in the record that demonstrated the owner currently used all of the land, but for a portion that was wetlands, for agricultural purposes. The Court also noted that even though the owner might, in the future, sell some or all of the subdivided lots, he intended to preserve the agricultural use of the land. It held that a farmer may choose to live on a farm and this did not convert what is an otherwise agricultural purpose into a residential use. Nothing in the record before the board supported its conclusion that the primary purpose of the requested agricultural subdivision was anything other than for agriculture.


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