Burzichelli Bill to Allow Certain Preserved Farmlands to Establish Microenterprises Clears First Legislative Hurdle

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel recently approved legislation sponsored by John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem) to encourage the viability of preserved farmlands in the state.

Designated as the “New Jersey Rural Microenterpise Act,” the intent of the legislation is to help certain owners of preserved farmlands to expand the economic activity in manner consistent with the objectives of the state’s farmland preservation program.

“There is a way to help the owners of historically preserved farmlands become more self-sustainable and still protect agricultural structures and the public investment into farmland preservation,” Burzichelli said. “We have seen vineyards and farms create a vehicle to economic growth and stability through microenterprises. The owners who oversee the preservation of New Jersey’s most historic agricultural sites should be given the same opportunity.”

Current law authorizes the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC) to issue a special permit to allow a commercial nonagricultural activity to occur on preserved farmland. The bill (A-2839) would amend this existing law in order to correct any past inequity in the farmland preservation program application process.

Specifically, the bill would authorize certain preserved farm owners to apply to the committee for a special permit that would allow the farm owner to undertake a rural microenterprise on the farm premises. The bill also authorizes a special permit to be issued provided that:

(1) the owner of the premises establishes, through the submission of tax forms, sales receipts, or other appropriate documentation, as directed by the committee, that the qualifying land is a commercial farm, and that the owner of the premises is a farmer;

(2) the owner of the premises, or an immediate family member thereof, is the same person who owns and operates the rural microenterprise;

(3) the permit is for one rural microenterprise only;

(4) no more than one permit is valid at any one time for use on the qualifying land;

(5) the permit is for a maximum duration of 20 years;

(6) the permit does not run with the land and may not be assigned;

(7) the rural microenterprise does not interfere with the use of the qualifying land for agricultural production;

(8) the rural microenterprise utilizes the land and structures in their existing condition, and is undertaken in compliance with various use restrictions prescribed by the bill;

(9) the total area of land and structures devoted to supporting the rural microenterprise does not exceed a one-acre envelope on the qualifying land;

(10) the rural microenterprise does not have an adverse impact upon the soils, water resources, air quality, or other natural resources of the land or the surrounding area; and

(11) the rural microenterprise is not a high traffic volume business, and is undertaken in compliance with parking and employment restrictions prescribed by the bill.

“Preserved farmlands are gems of New Jersey’s agricultural history,” Burzichelli continued. “The owners of our historically preserved farmlands should be allowed to create an independent source of income that will help them continue their preservation efforts without relying solely on outside funding.”

Rural microenterprises could include: customary rural activities, such as snow plowing, bed and breakfasts, bakeries, woodworking and craft-based businesses; or agriculture support services that are useful to the surrounding agricultural community, such as veterinarian practices, seed suppliers, and tractor or equipment repair shops; or microenterprises that are unrelated to agriculture or the surrounding agricultural community; such as dog kennels, professional office space, or personal training studios.

The measure was released, 5-0, by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, October 27.