Bill removing obstacles to land preservation moves to governor’s desk

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MORRIS COUNTY — Legislation enabling municipalities to preserve land they acquired through tax foreclosures is on awaits Governor Phil Murphy’s review after gaining Assembly approval today.

Sponsored by Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths, the bill (S1707/A2534) exempts municipalities from community fees on land acquired for open space. It eliminates deed covenants that have blocked the state Department of Environmental Protection’s purchase of three parcels from Sandyston Township for the last four years.

“This bill accomplishes two goals,” said Wirths (R-Sussex). “It encourages land preservation where it makes sense and brings in new revenue to a municipality like Sandyston, which can use the proceeds to hold the line on property taxes. It’s a win-win.”

The township acquired eight acres on Devita Road bordering Stokes State Forest in tax foreclosures. An agreement with DEP was stalled by language in the deeds allowing property owners to form a community and asses fees to maintain its private road and lakes. There are more than a dozen residences and undeveloped lots and one road.

“Unnecessary restrictions are interfering with municipalities trying to sell unwanted parcels of land,” said Space (R-Sussex). “Property taxpayers are on the hook for these properties. This measure promotes open space while protecting the rights of landowners.”

The Senate passed a version of the bill sponsored by Senator Steve Oroho in September.