Hunterdon County Soil Conservation District v. Denhollander

A-6650-96T3 and A-4028-97T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: February 23, 1999

SOIL ACT—The agricultural or horticultural exemption to the Soil Act does not extend to the construction of major parking lots or extensive walkways that are constructed for the convenience of the property user.

A large agricultural enterprise conducted a business primarily devoted to the production of decorative plants. Its operations were conducted in both fixed, permanent greenhouses and non-permanent structures referred to as hoophouses. Because of the size of its fields, the business constructed concrete walkways between its greenhouses and hoophouses to enable its workers to wheel the plants on carts. The walkways measured in excess of 15,000 square feet. In addition, it installed a parking lot in excess of 5,000 square feet, large enough to accommodate seven to eight large trucks. One of the tracts of land used was required to comply with soil conservation, soil erosion, and sediment control measures. The enforcing agency sought injunctive relief against the enterprise to make the construction project comply with the Soil Act. In response, the enterprise argued that its project was exempt from the Soil Act, claiming that its project did not involve “any disturbance of more than 5,000 square feet of the surface area of land ... or the clearing or grading of any land for other than agricultural or horticultural purposes.” The Court found this reading of the exemption to be entirely too broad, holding that the construction of the parking lot and the concrete walkways provided more than a sufficient basis to conclude that the enterprise was subject to the requirements of the Soil Act, particularly since the Soil Act’s definition of “project” includes construction of a parking lot. The Court held that the exemption for “clearing or grading” for agricultural purposes was entirely unrelated to the inclusion of parking lots. Further, even though the agricultural enterprise contended that the concrete walkways were an integral part of its agricultural and horticultural operation, they were installed for ease of operation and had a measurable impact on the land in terms of soil erosion. Therefore, the Soil Act applied.