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Wyckoff Buys Russell Farms for $3.1M

Mayor DePhillips: "This is an historic moment for the township."

Wyckoff completed the $3.1 million purchase of Russell Farms on Friday afternoon, according to Mayor Chris DePhillips. 

"We just minutes ago finished the closing," DePhillips said Friday afternoon. "The township is now the owner."

"[Deputy Mayor] Rudy Boonstra and I both attended the closing. All appropriate documents were signed and the property is now officially owned by the township," DePhillips said. "This is an historic moment for the township."

The 5 acre parcel of open space joins another 5 acre parcel known as the Larkin House Park, donated by Helen Larkin, the 13 acre wildlife sanctuary known as the Gardens of Wyckoff donated by Warner W. “Bud” Brackett and the 18 acre Wyckoff Community Park donated by the Wyckoff Board of Education for active recreation.

With the addition of the Russell Farms property, the township’s inventory of open space increases to 288.95 acres from 283.95 acres or 6.74 percent of the township’s total land area.

"According to feedback we've received from the community we'd like to see it preserved and used for passive recreation," DePhillips said. "It will be a place you could take a walk or throw a Frisbee."

Deputy Mayor Rudy Boonstra said Friday that the township would now begin to repopulate the space with trees and greenery following a remediation process that removed much of the landscaping.

Committeeman Brian Scanlan Friday praised a group of individuals he said were instrumental in getting the ball rolling on funding and completing the purchase.

"Without the Friends of Wyckoff we wouldn't have had the Open Space Trust Fund, and you need to have a source of funding — the county will not fund an entire land purchase otherwise," Scanlan said.

The committeeman added that the Friends worked "very hard" to get the first Open Space Trust Fund referendum on the ballot in 2006.

Scanlan also praised Boonstra for making the initial proposal to preserve the Russell Farms property and lauded Township Administrator Bob Shannon for putting together the county grant application and shepherding Wyckoff through the process. 

"[Shannon] has been on top of this from day one," Scanlan said.

Scanlan went on to laud Township Attorney Rob Landel, who "was very skillful in handling the very important negotiations and working with the land owners."

"It shows what people can do when they get behind something and really work hard to make it happen," Scanlan said. 

Friends of Wyckoff Chair Linda Vreeland said Saturday that her group is pleased to have had a significant role in initiating the Open Space Trust Fund.

"We are also happy that public officials from both the county and state levels supported this purchase for Wyckoff," she added.

"These five acres will now not only become a park, it will represent the early farming life so prevalent in Wyckoff for 200 years," Vreeland said. "I personally have many memories buying apples and pumpkins at Russell Farms. It’s nice to know that this land will now be preserved for Wyckoff’s future generations."

To fund the purchase, the township was awarded and $1,204,000 from the municipal open space tax collected from Wyckoff taxpayers from January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2011. An additional $37,000 was appropriated from the township’s Capital Improvement Fund.

In the first influx of cash from the Open Space Trust Fund between 2006 and 2011,  by charging residents a half cent per $1,000 of assessed property value which amounts to roughly $39 a year. 

Last November, Wyckoff residents with 2,440 votes in favor to 963 against.

 

Some background on the property provided by The Township of Wyckoff:

In 1989 a “Mount Laurel Law Suit” was filed against Wyckoff by John Ambrose Development Company of Hawthorne to build condominiums behind the Brick House off of Ralph Avenue. The NJ Superior Court ordered re-zoning of 15 properties in Wyckoff, including Russell Farms, a five acre farm, for 19 high density condos.  In 1998, the Township Committee pro-actively, based on the release of the second round of housing quotas from New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing, re-calculated its need and the Township Committee was successful in removing four sites from Mt. Laurel zoning, thereby saving four sites from high density zoning. Russell Farms was one of those sites.

In 2007, Cole & Burke Realty Investment, Inc. (the owners and prior operators of the farm property) entered into a contract to sell the five acre farm to Barrister Land Development Company to build homes. The contract purchaser, with the property owner’s consent, submitted an application to the Planning Board and successfully received approval to build six new single family homes on the five acre farm in February, 2008.

Due to the slump in the economy, the contract purchaser (Barrister Land Development Company) with the approval and consent of the farm owner (Cole & Burke Realty Investment, Inc.) then filed a complaint with the Council on Affordable Housing, challenging the township’s affordable housing plan with the purpose of building high density housing on the farm instead of the six single family homes as was approved by the Wyckoff Planning Board. It was at this point the Township considered purchasing Russell Farms to save it from overdevelopment.

The Township began negotiations in 2009, obtained the Bergen County Open Space Grant in 2010 and authorized the purchase on December 6, 2011. Since then the Township has required the Cole & Burke Realty Investment, Inc. and Barrister Land Development Company, the owners and the original contract purchaser, to perform a NJDEP compliant clean-up of the pesticide pollution. During this time, the Township Committee obtained two extensions from the Bergen County Open Space Program in order to maintain and secure the $1,859,000 open space grant.

The Township Committee also in the performance of its due diligence, contracted with its Environmental Consultant, Boswell Engineering, to review all environmental correspondence and procedures being performed. Two previously de-commissioned underground storage tanks used by the farmers to fuel their vehicles were identified and the Township required their removal. That removal process and the verification review of subsequent environmental tests resulted.

A No Further Action letter regarding the farmer’s pesticide contamination clean-up was issued by NJDEP on April 3, 2012. On April 19, 2012, the Township was advised by its Environmental Consultant that it may proceed with the closing because all relevant environmental testing had been completed and verified. On April 19, 2012, all negotiations with the sellers concerning all aspects of the purchase were completed and resolved.

Diane Sobin April 20, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Nice to hear from a distance that Friends of Wyckoff efforts, beginning in 2006, have paid off. Kudos to the community for recognizing Brian Scanlan for his tireless efforts. He is the model for an honorable representative for Wyckoff - and clearly worked with fellow committee members to make this possible.
Chemdude April 21, 2012 at 01:29 AM
I live in Atlanta now but grew up in Wyckoff, just down the street from Russell Farms. In the 1960s and 1970s we would do our local fruit and vegetable shopping there. We would sometimes sneak onto the property as kids to play in the apple orchard, only to have Barney Russell chase us off his farm with his tractor! Great memories of a wonderful place. Glad that they saved this space from development. Kudos to all who helped to make this a reality.
Joseph M. Gerace (Editor) April 21, 2012 at 01:47 AM
The image of Barney chasing you off the farm on his tractor is amazing.
NLTITAN April 21, 2012 at 10:23 AM
I'm impressed!! I remember picking apples at the farm with my children. Too bad we couldn't save Boulder Run! Thought the apartments were suppose to be build over McDonald's and those stores next to it!!
Jim April 21, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Congratulations Wyckoff. We did it!
KS April 21, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Congrats wyckoff, thanks to all who worked so hard to make it happen. Please continue to keep our community filled with open and green space. On another note, seems like a great opportunity to add an animal friendly space to wyckoff.
John Margroff April 21, 2012 at 01:54 PM
We can all appaud the great job done by Bob Shannon with his efforts on the Russell Faarm project. He is one of the people in our that actually who does the work rather than just verbalize his opinions to gain popularity. Lets hope our town does not overlandscape the Russell tract and let it become as natural as possible.
WyckoffMom April 21, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I wonder if the folks who have moaned and complained the loudest about the size and scope of the Boulder Run project realize that the reason Wyckoff could take off those 4 properties (including the Russell Farm piece) from the Mt. Laurel zoning requirement is because of the concessions that were made by our Township leaders to allow what was built at Boulder Run. It makes much more sense, since we have to comply with the Mt. Laurel mandate anyway, to build higher-density housing in the center of town/business district than in the outskirts of town. Looks like those Township Committeemen and Planning Board members had more foresight than our 'friends' are willing to give them credit for. That being said, well done Township Committee, and especially Bob Shannon, for your hard work in making this happen!
Susanna April 21, 2012 at 11:46 PM
You're missing the point "Wyckoff Mom". Sure, the Township Committee and Bob Shannon did a commendable job securing the 5 acre farm. However, they could not have purchased it, nor would Mr. Shannon have had "paperwork" to do had it not been for The Friends of Wyckoff initiating a petition in 2006 to get the question on the ballot for an Open Space Trust Fund. As this article states, an overwhelming number of residents voted to renew the fund for another 3 years. Give credit where credit is due, not only to our governing body, but to a local environmental group that had the foresight - in the first place - to have an open space fund. This purchase could not have happened without it.
Katrina April 22, 2012 at 12:16 AM
The apartments could have been in a much more beautiful, village-like Boulder Run. Instead, we see the back of a building with air handler units on top (with no year-round screening) and we have an ocean of asphalt with an inadequate number of landscaped/treed islands, and we have a BIG BOX called Stop and Shop. Our township committee at the time totally dropped the ball with Boulder Run. Thank you to Friends, Brian Scanlan and Bob Shannon for your tireless efforts.
Bobbi Ann April 22, 2012 at 08:06 PM
In response to a comment I'd like to say the Township Committee and the Planning Board referred to as having "foresight" are the same Township Committee members who were against the Open Space Tax in 2006 and the same Planning Board that approved the big box store, the additional retail stores (some of which are still vacant), and the acres of parking lot that make up what we now know as Boulder Run. No one ever said that Boulder Run didn't need a "face lift" but it certainly could have been done more tastefully than the big elephant in the center of our quaint town! And let's not forget that had it not been for the door to door canvasing by the Friends of Wyckoff and getting more than 2500 signatures the referendum would never have been placed on the ballot the first tine around. As far as the Township Comnmitteemen, there is only one who's foresight and determination made this happen and that is Brian Scanlan! Recognition goes to Bob Shannon for his efforts and hard work as well. Also, thanks to all the residents who understand and appreciate the importance of open space in maintaining our quality of life in Wyckoff.
Alice Berdy April 22, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I was just about to leave the same comment - there is virtually no park in Wyckoff that I can bring my dog! I have to schlepp all the way to Ridgewood to take a nice walk or use the dog park. If anyone wants to propose and raise funds for a dog park, I would be happy to be part of it.
delgado April 23, 2012 at 02:39 AM
the Bergen Republicans opposed the open space referendum and fought it kicking and screaming and Mahwahs Freeholder Hermansen voted against every single open space effort... then County Exe. Donovan opposed and riduculed every single Democrat who voted for open space and now with the bergen Republicans running everything they decided to go and spend all the open space money up in Wyckoff. Great to see the residents of River Edge and Cliffside have raised taxes to preserve open space in Wyckoff....
JR April 25, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Wah, wah, wah. The entire township committee got behind the purchase once the voters expressed their interest via passage of the open space referendum. However, instead of celebrating this achievement and the cohesion displayed, people here need to once again separately laud Brian Scamlan for his somehow more impressive efforts. These are the same people that complain constantly about divisiveness in Wyckoff's local government, yet they are the same people that force this divisiveness down everyone's throats through their inability to give full credit where credit is due. I get it, Scamlan is the messiah to some people, but get off your high horses for a minute and recognize that their were four other committee members that fully supported this endeavor.
Susanna April 26, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Was that a typo, "JR"? I believe Committeeman Scanlan's last name has no "m" in it. Or were you attempting sarcasm and disrespect for an upstanding member of our township committee? I do not see divisiveness among "people" in Wyckoff. I do see one-side-edness among those who wish to take ALL the credit for the purchase of Russell Farms, without crediting an environmental group in town who initiated a petition to get the open space question on the ballot way back in 2006. That would not have been necessary if our governing body - at the time - had the "foresight" to pass an ordinance in 2006 to put the open space question on the ballot that year. Those "four" members then and now, jumped on the band wagon a little after the fact. Good for them. Yay. Thanks to them Wyckoff is finally a "Tree City" town. Surrounding towns have been a "Tree City" for 15, 20 or more years.
Wy@ April 27, 2012 at 12:53 AM
WyckoffMom got it right.
Patti Tee May 03, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Yeah! we're actually getting something here besides ANOTHER bank??? about time!
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