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Urban Farms Inc. v. Township of Wayne

Decided: April 21, 1978.


On appeal from Division of Tax Appeals.

Allcorn, Morgan and Horn.

Per Curiam

[159 NJSuper Page 63] This is an appeal and cross-appeal from judgments in the Division of Tax Appeals (Division) finding certain parcels of the taxpayer's lands entitled to farmland assessment under the Farmland Assessment Act

of 1964, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 et seq. (the act). The judge of the Division held that the first group (Lot 26 in Block 602; Lot 5 in Block 603; Lots 6, 6A, 6B, 6C, 6D, 6E, 6F, 7 and 9 in Block 604) was entitled to farmland assessment for the tax years 1972 and 1973, and that the Second Group (Lots 20, 25, 25A, 27, 28, 29 and 30 in Block 602; Lot 2 in Block 604, and Lots 1H and 2F in Block 605) was entitled to farmland assessment for the tax years 1973 and 1974. All the land in question was held to be valued at $720 an acre. The taxpayer appeals from the judgments as to valuation and the township cross-appeals from the whole of the judgments granting farmland assessment.

The property in question comprises approximately 927 acres located in Wayne Township along a mountainous ridge. It is part of a larger tract of forestland totaling some 1,200 acres with additional acreage in North Haledon and Franklin Lakes. All of this land is part of approximately 3,000 acres acquired in 1954 by the taxpayer corporation, which was formed solely to acquire and manage the property. Over the years various farming activities were conducted on the land. In the tax years in question, and the two years immediately preceding them, there were sales of firewood, live trees, evergreens and cider.*fn1 However, the dominant activity was the dedication of the land to a woodland management program for the commercial production of lumber. In 1971 the taxpayer entered into a ten-year contract with a consulting forester to manage the forestland pursuant to a silviculture program. This is a method which encompasses various types of activity to increase the productivity of woodland. Basically, the woodland is selectively thinned, trees cut and seedlings planted to eventually obtain the ultimate of 100 superior "crop trees" per acre instead of the approximately 300 to 500 trees per acre which might otherwise grow. It takes 50 years for

a crop tree to mature from seed, and crop trees are to be periodically cut on a ten-year cutting cycle for a given area.

Without such a silviculture program woodland can be expected to produce approximately $2 an acre in income a year. With such a program productivity can be increased to $20 an acre per year. A report submitted by the forester showed that the property in question contained approximately 104,000 crop trees with a stumpage value of $64,901.20. The estimated annual growth was approximately $4 an acre per year. Pursuant to the plan, 1,000,000 board feet of timber had been recommended for removal and 610,900 board feet had already been cut in 1972, 1973 and 1974, producing $15,500 in income. Seedlings have been planted on the contiguous property and it was planned that in 1976 some would be planted on the Wayne property. The woodland has been certified as a "tree farm," managed to assure the continuous production of commercial forest crops by the American Forest Institute.

On appeal the township does not question that the land meets acreage and income requirements (N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.5), but contends that forestland, as here, which is not preexisting woodland appurtenant to a traditional farm, is not entitled to farmland assessment under the act.

Woodland and other acreage having marginal value for agricultural use may be given the preferential tax treatment when it is appurtenant to and reasonably required for the purpose of maintaining the land actually devoted to agricultural use, particularly where it has been part of the farm for a number of years. Bunker Hill Cranberry Co. v. Jackson Tp. , 144 N.J. Super. 230, 234 (App. Div. 1976), certif. den. 73 N.J. 59 (1977); Andover Tp. v. Kymer , 140 N.J. Super. 399, 402-404 (App. Div. 1976); N.J.A.C. 18:15-6.2(a) (6). Thus, woodland which is not producing sufficient income from agricultural or horticultural use may in fact qualify for farmland assessment. However, said statute (N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 et seq.) is

amply clear that woodland by itself may be qualified for the favored tax treatment if it meets all the criteria under the act, including devotion to an agricultural or horticultural use.

N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.3 clearly provides that "[l]and shall be deemed to be in agricultural use when devoted to the production for sale of plants and animals useful to man, including * * * trees and forest products * * *." Therefore, when land is actually and exclusively devoted to such a use, it may qualify for farmland assessment. Cf. East Orange v. Livingston Tp. , 102 N.J. Super. 512, 535-537 (Law Div. 1968), aff'd o.b. 54 N.J. 96 (1969). In the instant case the record reveals substantial credible evidence to warrant the finding that the land was devoted to an agricultural use as defined under the act and thereby entitled to ...

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