Wright fears farmers still to battle bike path proposals

AFP Correspondent

WEST WINDSOR TOWNSHIP (Sept. 15, 2016) — A crowd of concerned residents gathered at the township municipal building on Aug. 10 to discuss possible routing for a state-funded bicycle/walking path.
Most residents who spoke were opposed to the proposed routing of the path, which would put bicyclists back out onto a busy stretch of Conover Road.
An alternate routing for the path, which would involve cutting into the front lawns of Conover Road residents, drew even more opposition at the boisterous meeting.
The meeting was led by township engineer Francis Guzik, and Pat Ward, director of community development for West Windsor Township.
The whole plan was voted down by the township council at a meeting on Aug. 15.
Nursery farmer Will “Wilbo” Wright, who took over his father’s farm after he died in 1998, was among those opposed to the bike/walking path in a township he said already has several other bike paths and a 2,500-acre Mercer County Park, which contains 11.2 miles of naturalized bike/walking paths.
Wright grows more than three dozen varieties of trees and specialty shrubs on his 4.78 acre farm at 98 Conover Road, including boxwood and arrow wood trees, rhododendruns, azaleas and other landscape shrubs.
Wright is a wholesaler so he has only occasional visitors to his farm, who come with trucks to remove trees, and his concern was being able to turn those trucks around in the event the proposed bike path and accompanying fence were built.
Though the proposed plans were voted down, Wright said the series of events are important for Garden State farmers to be cognizant of, as bike paths often present unnecessary complications for farmers.
“If you go online and Google search bike paths vs. farmers, you’ll see this is happening all over the state and the country,” Wright argued, “and I predict we’ll be seeing more and more of this.”
Wright argued at the Aug. 10 meeting with the township planner and director of community development that there would be unfair liability burdens for him, as a small farmer. West Windsor had proposed putting a fence along the back of his property, which abuts with farmland property owned by Mercer County.
“If I didn’t agree to the fence then I’d have bikes all over my property, and if I did agree to a fence, I’d still have liability, because I’m often out there spraying trees,” he said. Wright recalled there was a mountain bike path several years ago that ran along the back of his property and he was repeatedly reminding riders that his land was off-limits, as they’d often park and rest in the shade of his trees.
Wright said because his nursery and home sit on just 4.78 acres of property, the business he inherited from his father doesn’t qualify for the state’s farmland tax assessment program and there are no taxpayer-funded New Jersey Farmland preservation funds involved.
“The bikers weren’t cutting across my land, but they were in close enough proximity to my shrubs and trees, there was always the possibility I might be out there spraying trees,” he said.
At the Aug. 10 meeting, which was attended by West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, one Conover Road resident asked the officials, “Why do we need another bike path here in West Windsor where we already have other bike paths and we live so close to Mercer County Park, where they have lots of bike paths?”
Wright had a lawyer friend look over the proposed planned bike paths as presented by West Windsor’s office of community development and the township planner.
“The thing he really stressed was liability,” Wright said. “He said, ‘Look, it’s a liability issue. Right now, you may be fine, but sooner or later somebody will get hurt on the path and the township or the county will have a lawsuit on their hands, and because your property abuts on their proposed path, your liability rates will go up,” Wright said.
Wright said with trucks coming in and out to remove trees he would have faced a risk of damaging a township-owned fence as well as risk from spraying trees.
“For a little guy like me, the insurance rates could cripple me,” he said.