Farming returns to Chatham Township

AFP Correspondent

CHATHAM TOWNSHIP —When the king deeded 400 acres to Silas Hines, there was no Green Village, no Chatham Township, no Morris County, no New Jersey, and no United States of America.
But there were farms.
Today, Green Village Road winds through the former Hines holdings, passing former family homes and the house occupied by Dan Miller, a direct descendent.
Tom Bucuk lives in Miller’s great grandfather’s house.
Miller lives in his grandfather’s house. Another family home passed out of the lineage after the death of Miller’s cousin, Fr. Edward Hines, who was murdered in his church, St. Patrick’s in Chatham Borough last year, a shocking crime unusual and out of character in this bucolic southeast corner of Morris County.
What is not out of character, Miller said, is farming. Yet, he and Bucuk fought for nearly a year for the right to sell at nearby farmers’ markets the produce they grow.
The township committee, in a vote of 3-1 with one member absent due to a commitment before the county freeholders, approved a market garden ordinance on April 26.
Other residents of Green Village, a section of Chatham Township known for decades for the roses grown in greenhouses and shipped to New York City, objected to the sanctioning of commercial farms.
Katherine Abbott, the committee’s liaison to the township environmental commission, said after the vote, residents who grow vegetables for their own use can spray whatever they want on their gardens even when the wind takes the spays over their property lines.
In contrast, the market gardens allowed under the new ordinance will be organic gardens.
Besides objecting to the idea of large gardens, those opposed to the ordinance said nothing would keep “fleets of trucks” from going in and out of the farms, in the words of Margy Capecelatro.
Township Administrator Thomas Ciccarone said the ordinance allows one commercial vehicle on the property plus some limited parking of other trucks.
He said most farmers would use a small pickup truck to transport vegetables to nearby farmers’ markets in Chatham, Morristown or New Providence.
Abbott said farm stands are not allowed under the ordinance.
The small lots and narrow roads don’t lend themselves to that sort of traffic, she added.
Miller said most of the properties involved are about three acres. There is 125 acres behind his house that has been used for horses and hay, but his own property is much smaller.
He noted The Farm, a greenhouse business owned by Jim Brill, is right up the street as is the former Heyl’s Greenhouses, the last rose grower in the township.
“My father and my uncle used to trade vegetables for milk from a nearby dairy during the Depression,” Miller said.
Bucuk owns Green Path, a landscaping business, and Miller said some neighbors were concerned he’d run the business out of his home. “He used his workers to clean up the property when he bought it three years ago,” Miller said, noting he thinks some neighbors were suspicious of some of Bucuk’s Mexican employees.
“They want the land here developed,” Miller said of his neighbors, shaking his head at the thought.
There are a few 60-by-100-foot lots in the area, but most are much bigger. “Chatham Township didn’t put in sewers here,” he said. While he’s not sure limiting development by withholding services is the right thing to do, the fact remains lots are larger in Green Village than in the rest of Chatham Township and will remain so.
The ordinance has been controversial since it was proposed with planning board and township committee meetings stretching far into the night as residents from both sides spoke out.
At the last meeting, though, only two property owners spoke against it and Ronald Gunn, whose property is eligible, thanked the township committee for a well-thought-out plan.
“Common sense prevailed,” Committeeman Bailey Brower Jr. said.
The potential hold-up of passage was the fact, brought out by Township Attorney Carl Woodward, that under the terms of the ordinance the Rolling Knolls Superfund Site would qualify.
The township committee agreed to amend the ordinance at a later meeting to eliminate that site.