THE STATE WE'RE IN
"If you build it, they will come," goes the fable spun to local officials hard-pressed for tax revenue. "It," in this case, was a truck transfer depot proposed for the 197-acre Heritage Farm in Franklin Township, Warren County. "They" were ratables, or local tax revenues. But there's more and more evidence every year that preserving farmland wins out over the "Fable of the Ratable."
The proposal for Heritage Farm included a trucking hub and transfer station, with over a million square feet of warehouse space, 2,000 parking spaces and room for 800 trucks and loading bays. Operating 24 hours a day with significantly increased traffic on local roads, the facility would have introduced light, air, and noise pollution in an otherwise bucolic, rural area.
What could have possibly justified a truck depot on a farm? The "Fable of the Ratable," of course.
The "Fable of the Ratable" has been told countless times across New Jersey, and the results are evident: sprawl, traffic congestion, dirty air and water, and property taxes that have gone UP, not down. If this type of development led to a happy place of low taxes, economic prosperity, and healthy and high-quality living, New Jersey would be the Garden of Eden State by now!
Fortunately, for various reasons the developer of the truck depot pulled out. So there's still a chance to permanently preserve this farm and many others like it in the region. New Jersey voters consistently vote with their pocketbooks for preserving farmland, as they just did once again by passing a $400 million bond act in November 2009.
And farming still makes economic sense in this state we're in. The nonprofit Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance recently conducted a survey to determine the economic impact of the weekly farmers' market at the Dvoor Farm in Raritan Township. The land trust owns the farm and runs the market.
They surveyed the spending habits of their customers and vendors, using a tool specifically designed to measure a public market's impact on the local economy. The results revealed that the market is a regional draw - bringing customers and revenue from everywhere from Flemington, N.J., to Ottsville, Pa.
Approximately $400,000 is spent at the market each season and another $280,000 is spent at local businesses, generating about $10,000 in sales tax revenue. When market vendors reinvest their earnings locally, the total downstream economic impact is estimated at over $1 million.
The "Fable of the Ratable" has been told so many times, for so long, that many accept it as fact. But farmland doesn't need pavement to be productive! It does, however, need to be protected if we are to all live happily ever after.
For more information about Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance's study, the Dvoor Farm or the defunct truck depot proposal, go to the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance website at www.hlta.org or the Skylands Preservation Alliance website at www.skylandspreservation.org.