Sunday, August 21, 2005


Winslow hopes to acquire farm
By ERIK SCHWARTZCourier-Post Staff


Two weeks after a state appeals court ruled towns can take property through eminent domain to stop development, the township committee moved to use the threat of that power to acquire some of the last remaining farmland in the Sicklerville section.
Winslow Mayor Sue Ann Metzner hailed the measure introduced Tuesday night as "the best use of government" and one that would eliminate a proposal for 504 residential units on the 64-acre Jennings Farm, which sits just down Berlin-Cross Keys Road from the Atlantic City Expressway.
"I just am so excited because I think that all you hear about are the eminent domain decrees that are made where they take people's homes and people's businesses and displace people. And this is a real preservation of just about the last open space in Sicklerville," Metzner said.
The acquisition would enable the township to expand the adjacent 49-acre Donio Park and "keep an area green that's in a heavily built-up area," she said.
The owners of the property have a deal with a developer who wants to create a 55-and-over community and a shopping center. But the project has drawn substantial opposition in Sicklerville, which continues to grow as one of the more affordable suburban communities in South Jersey.
Opponents objected to the developer's plan to build more than triple the number of homes allowed under zoning laws.
Greg Buttari, a resident of the Wyndam Hill subdivision, helped organize opposition from among some of the 2,000 households in the area. He praised the township's plan to buy the land.
"We think it's a terrific idea," said Buttari, 54, a retired Camden County investigator. "Thank God it was principles before personalities with the local politicians this time. They really stood up and didn't act in a partisan manner and did what was right for the community."
Metzner is one of four Republicans on the township committee, which is controlled 5-4 by Democrats. "It's one of the first issues that has been bipartisan in a long time," she said.
Darlene Jennings, 60, has a different perspective. She's the widow of J. Mark Jennings, whose family has owned the farm for more than a century.
"I don't believe that the people that have moved into developments near a farm should have the right to tell the farmer, who's lived there for generations before them, who to sell it to and how much to sell it for," she said.
On Tuesday the committee unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance declaring Winslow's intention to purchase the land, using eminent domain if necessary. Eminent domain is government's power to take private property for public use by paying for it.
A companion resolution called for the hiring of an appraiser to evaluate the property. A public hearing on the ordinance is set for Sept. 27.
An Ocean County firm, AST Development Corp., has had the farm under contract since 2003, said Harold Jennings of Washington Township, one of four brothers who co-own the land.
"Our main concern would be getting a fair value for the property," he said. "If we were going to go back in at the present time, certainly we would go in for a higher number."
Jennings declined to reveal the proposed purchase price.
"The appraisal will have a great deal to do or say about that and the actions we may have to take as a result," he said.
Edward L. Stutz, AST's acquisitions chief, declined comment.

Reach Erik Schwartz at (856) 486-2904 or
Published: Courier-Post August 19, 2005