TRENTON – A Superior Court Appellate panel today upheld a trial judge’s earlier ruling that a commercial plant grower in Hunterdon County is liable for the destruction of prime, preserved farmland he leveled in order to construct hoophouses, a type of greenhouse, and that he must restore the damaged land.
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Peter A. Buchsbaum found Quaker Valley Farms and its owner David den Hollander, of Franklin Township, liable for destroying prime farmland he owned that was preserved under the State’s Farmland Preservation Program created under the Agriculture Retention and Development Act. The land at issue was protected by deed restriction, and also rated as prime agricultural land – capable of supporting such field crops as corn, wheat, barley, hay, oats and soy beans.
While the 2012 decision held den Hollander liable for leveling prime agricultural preserved land in preparation for a hoophouse construction project, it did not determine remedy. Remedy was the focus of a four-day trial that took place in May of 2013 and, following that trial, Judge Buchsbaum ruled that approximately 20 acres that had been disturbed must be restored to a condition that, to the extent possible, will one day be similar to what existed prior to the destruction.
Today’s Appellate ruling upholds both the 2012 and 2013 rulings. In its opinion, the Appellate panel found that den Hollander had engaged in the “unnecessary disruption and degradation of highly-rated soils” and that the trial court had engaged in a “thorough analysis of the record and the arguments presented.”
Den Hollander had the land at issue leveled and excavated to construct hoophouses in 2007-08, and the Division of Law subsequently filed suit on behalf of the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC).
SADC had determined through an expert evaluation that the qualities of the land that made it ideal for farming had been ruined, and that remediation would be required to attempt to restore the acreage to its prior condition.
“We welcome today’s Appellate decision, as it affirms the duty of land owners to comply with the State’s farmland protection laws, and clearly demonstrates that violators can, and will, be held accountable under the law for restoring damaged acreage that was earmarked for preservation,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.