By Mark Rosman
MANALAPAN – There is a difference of opinion as to whether a land owner can establish a pig farm on a 130-acre property he owns at the corner of Route 33 west and Millhurst Road, Manalapan.
Land owner Joseph Spano maintains he can raise pigs on the parcel; Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin says he may not.
The property at Route 33 and Millhurst Road has been the focus of several development proposals during the past decade. There is an existing approval for 500,000 square feet of retail and office space, but developers now maintain that a project that includes only retail and office space is not feasible in the current market and must include a residential component.
Municipal officials have not been moved by the developers’ claims that residential uses must be permitted in order for the property to be developed. Some residents have objected to the inclusion of residential uses on the property and have voiced those concerns publicly.
So now, according to Spano, he plans to partner with a national grower to raise hogs for market while he pursues legal action against Manalapan in a bid to allow housing to be developed at the site. Spano said it is unlikely there will be more than 5,000 hogs on the property at any one time.
Spano’s plan to establish a pig farm at Route 33 and Millhurst Road came to the attention of the public over the Labor Day weekend.
At the start of the Township Committee’s Sept. 7 meeting, Mayor Mary Ann Musich asked Township Attorney Roger McLaughlin to address the issue.
“The topic of the pig farm was discussed in executive session and the committee wants to share the following with the public. It is the position of the township that pig farming is not permitted in the Village Center (VC) zone,” McLaughlin said.
“No application (for a pig farm) has been filed and such an application would be denied. Farms are permitted in most zones in Manalapan. The property (at Route 33 and Millhurst Road) has been the subject of proposals for several years and the Township Committee is well aware that another proposal will be made. The committee will not decide on zoning under a threat. We see the pig farm for what it is,” he said.
When McLaughlin was asked by a reporter if New Jersey’s Right to Farm Act could supercede Manalapan’s zoning and allow a pig farm to be established in the Village Center zone, he said the act could not supercede local law in this case because agricultural uses are not permitted in the Village Center zone.
In a Sept. 10 response to a question from the News Transcript asking if there is a time frame for establishing the pig farm operation, Spano said, “This coming week (of Sept. 12) for the first 25 animals as a means of creating awareness. We are fortunate to have good visibility on Route 33.
“After the current crops (on the property) are harvested, we will look to expand the operation significantly. We have infrastructure to develop and there are also licensing requirements beyond 25 animals that we are currently navigating. We will be careful to do this the right way as we desire to operate only in a modern, professional and safe manner. I live in and work in the area myself and wish to be a good neighbor,” he said.
Asked if he had a response to McLaughin’s comments, Spano said, “The township attorney is a very knowledgeable gentleman and spoke correctly that a pig farm is not a permitted use in the VC zone. However, this property has been farmed continuously since before the establishment of that zone and, therefore, has ‘grandfathered’ rights to continue. There is no distinction between the type of farming as between crops and livestock.
“Further allow me to say that I believe I have been unfairly accused of doing this as some type of vindictive response to the attacks by those who have fought allowing me to build an economically viable commercial development on the property, which absolutely cannot be accomplished without a residential component. Let me emphatically state that such talk of vindictiveness is untrue.
“What is true is that $20 million has been invested into this lot over the last 13 years. The carrying cost of the mortgage cannot be even close to covered by crop farming. I had to find a way to cover those costs and the bank wants me to demonstrate an income stream sufficient to cover the carry as well.
“Livestock can do that for the time being as I work through the legal system and the current affordable housing rules as an intervenor in the township’s (affordable housing) plan. This will take time, but I hope to prevail in that case and build hundreds of affordable homes and the accompanying multiple of market rate homes on the property and elsewhere in town. The demand is strong. In the meantime, we will serve the market in the agricultural space, as is our right in this beautiful, God-blessed country,” Spano said.