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Wiesenfeld v. Township of South Brunswick

Decided: February 14, 1979.

BESS WIESENFELD, APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF SOUTH BRUNSWICK, RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Division of Tax Appeals, Department of the Treasury, State of New Jersey.

Conford and Pressler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, J.A.D.

Pressler

Petitioner appeals from a judgment entered by the Division of Tax Appeals denying her application for farmland assessment pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 et seq. for tax years 1972 and 1973 in respect of three separate tracts of land located in South Brunswick. We affirm.

The three tracts, denominated as the Richards Road tract, the Georges Road tract and the Fresh Ponds Road tract, are all woodlands for which the farmland assessment was sought on the basis of the alleged timber operations thereon conducted. The tax judge denied the applications based on her finding that petitioner had not borne her burden of proving that any of the tracts had produced the minimum

gross income prescribed by N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.5 as a condition for qualification for farmland assessment. She further found that the Fresh Ponds Road tract failed to qualify also because it had not been devoted to agricultural use for the two successive years prior to either of the tax years in question as required by N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.6. Our review of the record satisfies us that there is substantial credible evidence therein to support these findings. We accordingly decline to disturb them. See, e.g., Parkview Village Asso. v. Bor. of Collingswood , 62 N.J. 21, 34 (1972). And see R. 2:11-3 (e)(1)(D).

Petitioner advances an alternative theory in support of her contention that even if the income produced by the Georges Road tract is inadequate by itself to justify the farmland assessment, that parcel is nevertheless entitled to farmland assessment status by reason of the fact that it is part of another existing and qualified farm. The Georges Road tract which is the subject of this appeal is comprised of Lot 14B in Block 30 consisting of 100.8 acres and Lot 6D in Block 87 consisting of 26.29 acres. These lots are contiguous to another parcel petitioner owns. That other parcel is a 181-acre tract, identified as Block 30, Lot 16Q, which was acquired by petitioner some five or ten years prior to her acquisition of the lots in question. Lot 16Q, which has regularly been accorded the benefit of the farmland assessment, consists of about 50 tillable acres, and about 130 acres of woodlands and wetlands. The tillable portion has been farmed over the years, most recently for rotating soybean and wheat crops, by a succession of farmers under arrangement with the petitioner. Despite the fact that the arable land is only approximately 28% of its total acreage, the entire parcel has been assessed as farmland. Petitioner argues that since Lot 14B and the Block 67 lot are contiguous to Lot 16Q, all three should be considered as a single unit, with the consequence that the woodlands of the Georges Road tract would be treated for tax purposes no differently from the woodland portion of

the farm itself. We are satisfied that the tax judge did not err in rejecting this contention.

The Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 et seq. , although it generally defines qualifying agricultural use,*fn1 does not undertake to define qualifying woodlands and wetlands. That definitional problem is, however, addressed by the implementing regulations. Thus, N.J.A.C. 18:15-6.2(a)(6) specifically includes as an agricultural use land which is

Devoted to woodland appurtenant to land in agricultural or horticultural use and reasonably required for the purpose of maintaining the land in such use.

In Andover Tp. v. Kymer , 140 N.J. Super. 399, 403-405 (App. Div. 1976), we construed the applicable statute and administrative regulation as according presumptive qualification to woodland and wetland which is both legally and functionally part of a qualifying farm, which constitutes the marginal land area of that farm, and which has no independent productive use. As we there held

Under these circumstances the special farmland tax treatment is not limited to that part of the tract shown to be used for an agricultural purpose -- i.e. , only the fertile or cultivated area of the farm. Woodland, wet areas and other acreage having a marginal value for agricultural or horticultural use may also be ...


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