A state constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Jennifer Beck (R- Monmouth) to provide incentives for property owners with developable land to preserve their parcels as open space has cleared its first legislative hurdle.
The resolution, SCR-38, which would ask voters to authorize property tax reductions for privately held lands that are permanently preserved as open space, was approved by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The resolution is a companion to legislation, also sponsored by Senator Beck, that was passed by the Senate earlier this year to crack down on abuse of the state’s farmland assessment program.
“Open space preservation is an important priority for our state, the most densely populated in America,” said Beck, “However, we must incentivize that preservation in a way that is rational and appropriate. If approved by the voters, this resolution authorizes the Legislature to establish a program by which property owners’ bills are reduced if their land is donated to a non-profit or government entity for preservation.”
To be eligible for the program, the land in question must be subdividable and able to be developed under local land use regulations at the time of application. Qualifying land owners would retain ownership of the physical property, but would donate their development rights to a non-profit or government entity. A new assessment standard for preserved open space would be established, and participating property owners would receive a lower tax bill as a result of these reduced assessments.
“This will help take pressure off the demand for the farmland preservation program, which has resulted in land owners engaging in a small amount of perfunctory agricultural activity in order to qualify for a reduced property tax assessment,” Beck continued. “And, unlike lands subject to the farmland assessment, this program would ensure that parcels are preserved in perpetuity and could not later be sold by the owner to developers.”