Achieving the proper balance between development and the preservation of open space is a priority for many New Jersey communities. Legislation currently pending before the State Assembly would expand the use of county and municipal open space trust funds to acquire property.
Current law, P.L. 1997, C. 24 (N.J.S.A. 40:12-15.1 et seq.) authorizes counties and municipalities to use local property taxes to finance an Open Space Trust Fund. The proceeds may be applied to any or all of the following uses:
- Acquisition of lands for recreation and conservation purposes;
- Development of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes;
- Maintenance of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes;
- Acquisition of farmland for farmland preservation purposes;
- Historic preservation of historic properties, structures, facilities, sites, areas, or objects, and the acquisition of such properties, facilities, sites, areas, or objects for historic preservation purposes; and,
- Payment of debt service on indebtedness issued or incurred by a county or municipality for any of the purposes set forth above.
Assembly Bill No. 3318 would expand the definition of “acquisition” in the statute. More specifically, the proposed legislation would specify that “acquisition” includes the demolition of structures on, removal of debris from, and restoration of those lands to a natural state or to a state useful for recreation and conservation purposes. According to the statement accompanying the bill, the amendment is intended to “resolve any differing interpretations or applications which may be occurring presently at the local level with regard to the term ‘acquisition.’”
After being released by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 12, A-3318 now heads before the full Assembly. A companion bill, S-707, is currently pending before the Senate Environment Committee.
We will continue to track the status of the legislation and provide updates as they become available.
For more information about the proposed legislation or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.