The Paradox of Zoning Land for Recreation: Parsippany-Troy Hills Township Rezones Wildlife Preserves' Land at Troy Meadows
A chronology/synopsis of Parsippany's Ordinance 2014:16, passed by the Township on June 2, 2014; including information about Wildlife Preserves, Inc. and Troy Meadows.
Parsippany passed Ordinance 2014:16 at a special session of the Council on June 2, 2014. The ordinance zoned over a thousand acres of land in and adjoining the Troy Meadows natural area from Residential (R-1 and R-3) and Light Industrial zones to Recreation, Conservation, and Wildlife (RCW).
The land is owned by Parsippany's largest landowner, Wildlife Preserves, Inc. Wildlife Preserves is a private nonprofit corporation that acquired Troy Meadows 60 years ago and has preserved and protected it as a natural area and wildlife sanctuary ever since.
Len Fariello, former Mayor of Hanover and land manager for Wildlife Preserves called the RCW ordinance a mistake. He said, "The new zone is well-intended but it devalues Wildlife's land and weakens existing protection. It permits commercial nurseries, horse, hog, and chicken farming, and active recreational use in an area that has been traditionally used for passive recreation. It violated property rights and it is counter-productive and confiscatory."
Troy Meadows encompasses some 3,000 acres located in Parsippany, East Hanover, and Hanover Townships. It is recognized as a Natural Area by the State of New Jersey, a National Natural Landmark by the US Park Service, and a flood storage area by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Wildlife Preserves owns some 2,000 acres in and surrounding Troy Meadows. Its land was purchased and is managed with private funds, it is not funded by government or grants. Troy Meadows receives a Green Acres property tax exemption because Wildlife Preserves allows the public to enjoy its property at no cost.
Fariello said, "The RCW zone devalues the land and makes it easier for government and utilities to take it by eminent domain." He said, "The zone couldn't have come at a worse time, when JCP&L and Pilgrim liquid gasoline pipeline are trying to site their utility projects through Troy Meadows, so now the new zone makes it cheaper and easier to run the lines through the meadows. I can't believe the Township passed such an egregious act."
"Just look at the history of Troy Meadows," said Fariello. "Through the years the meadows has been reduced to half the size it was just 50 years ago. Wildlife Preserves was forced to surrender large areas of land taken by Eminent Domain. We've had to give up property for Route 80, Route 280, and the 80/280 interchange, the Route 280 Access Road, the clover leaf ramps at Route 280 and New Road, part of the Morris County Garbage Transfer Station, several Township sewerage lines, 2 utility gas pipelines, 2 electric power lines, easements, water wells, and pumping stations. The lower the value to the land, the easier it is to push undesirable projects through Troy Meadows."
"The RCW zoning ordinance was sponsored by Mayor Barberio. It appears to be a reaction to a few residents who lobbied the mayor and Council with false information that Wildlife Preserves was planning to sell its upland parcels of land for development," Fariello said.
Last summer, Wildlife Preserves filed a minor subdivision of one of its lots, which was heard by the planning board this past February. At the hearing, the engineer for Wildlife testified that the subdivision was in preparation to separate Wildlife Preserves' uplands from wetlands.
"Before too long, the wife of a planning board member began circulating rumors that Wildlife Preserves was preparing to develop its land," said Fariello.
On February 17, 2014, Mary Purzycki wrote a letter to the mayor and Council regarding "Wildlife Preserves and the property they own in Troy Meadows," she wrote, "My main concern is the areas which are not zoned RCW... I feel a review of zoning in this area is of prime importance."
On February 24, 2014, Ms. Julia Peterson told the planning board, "Troy Meadows has no permanent protection from development... Time is short for the rezoning of these parcels as RCW land."
"We were also told that the women walked the neighborhoods scaring neighbors and passing out flyers that Wildlife Preserves was going to build houses on its wildlife sanctuary," Fariello said.
An ordinance was introduced by the Council on April 22nd. It was recommended by the planning board on May 5th.
"The preparation, introduction, and planning board hearing were all done behind the scenes, without notifying the landowner," Fariello noted. "Wildlife Preserves received notice of the ordinance on May 6th. We were shocked when we learned about it less than two weeks before it was first scheduled to be voted on."
At the June 2nd hearing, Fariello publically questioned the motives of the Township and asked the Council to table the ordinance and cooperate with Wildlife Preserves to resolve any differences and issues the ordinance is trying to address.
Eight people commented at the public hearing, two spoke in support of the ordinance and six spoke against rezoning the land, but Township Attorney, John Inglesino warned the Council that if they didn't vote for it, Wildlife Preserves could come in with building plans.
"The Township planner and attorney manipulated the Council vote," said Fariello. "The Township should have postponed the vote to work with Wildlife to secure a better option for preservation."
Trustees for Wildlife Preserves said they had no intention of developing the property, but unfortunately because of the zoning ordinance, the organization was forced to file limited building site plans along Troy Meadows Road and at the end of Alan Drive in order to preserve its zone and protect its property values.
"Wildlife Preserves was willing to withdraw its site plans if the Township would table its ordinance, but the Township wouldn't meet with us to discuss it," said Anita Shotwell, one of the trustees of the organization.
Between 2003 and 2009, Parsippany secured grants for several million dollars from the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund, Green Acres Program, and the Army Corps of Engineers to buy Troy Meadows from Wildlife Preserves.
"At the time, the Township wouldn't commit to a natural management plan and Wildlife Preserves was not willing to sell the land without assurances that its natural habitat would be protected," Fariello said. "Since they couldn't buy it, they may now think they can control it through this zoning regulation, or maybe by down-zoning it, they think they can get it for pennies on the dollar. What was done is known as inverse condemnation," he said. "It is not permanent preservation, because the next administration can change the zone for something else, perhaps even a place to build COAH townhouses."
Fariello has worked for Wildlife Preserves for over 40 years. He said he's worked amicably with five mayors through the years. "You would think Mayor Barberio would work with an organization that is dedicated to preserving and protecting open space in Parsippany, but he doesn't talk with us," said Fariello. "I've requested cooperation and numerous meeting since he took office, but he just ignores us."
"Mayor Barberio supported the development of a vacant tract of open space at Water View and the Council majority voted against the zone plan. The mayor may now be trying to appear as if he's saving open space at Troy Meadows," said Fariello. "Problem is, it's already been saved by Wildlife Preserves and the new zone amendment only serves to hurt the organization that has protected it for all these years."