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County to Borrow $10M for Open Space 3.22.2006

By Rick Racela

CREST HAVEN – Feast or famine.
It seems like only yesterday that the county Open Space and Farmland Preservation Program had more money than applications, largely due to skyrocketing prices being paid by developers.
But now the freeholders are scheduled to approve a bond issue March 28 that will authorize the county to come up with some $10 million via short-term financing. That means less than five-years,
This is a first, and it’s because there are projects totaling some $13.7 million that could close this year while the fund has $2-3 million and takes in about $4 million a year.
Of the total, according to Open Space Director Barbara Ernst, almost $9 million is in farmland preservation easements. Her annual report given to freeholders March 14 referred to a 266-acre farm in Middle Township, a 142-acre farm and 29-acre farm, both in Dennis Township, all “awaiting funding.”
“We asked the applicants if they would take it (the money) over multi-years,” said Freeholder Director Daniel Beyel, “but they wanted it in a lump sum.”
Ernst said her figures are based on “contracts in hand, appraisals in hand, or asking  prices.  My total could be maybe off a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
The large total, she said, “indicates some individuals are willing to sell for preservation at the same value as developers are willing to pay.”
Ernst said the program, approved by voters in 1989 and funded by a tax of one cent per $100 of assessed value, has purchased 2,432 acres of development easements for some $14.2 million and 954 acres fee simple for some $13.6 million.
Last year, the county Agriculture Development Board reviewed three applications and recommended two to freeholders. The Open Space Review Board reviewed five applications and recommended four.
In a  two-page narrative that accompanied her report,  Ernst said agriculture production is “not dead,” just different.
“It’s a whole palette of industries from our traditional corn and tomatoes, to Asian vegetables and grape production,” she said.
“The small town and rural lifestyle associated with our greeenways and farmland remains an attractive feature of the Cape May landscape which is quickly disappearing as development continues to threaten our prime open lands,” she warned.
“Skyrocketing land values have created an awareness of the limited land resources here in Cape May County,” she concluded, “and a growing appreciation for the natural world to protect where butterflies flutter,  birds warble, crickets chirp, frogs croak, deer leap, and air we breathe. Permanent protection of open space will insure the quality of life issues that are important to us and to our future generations.”
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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