Friday, February 22, 2008

County Makes Offer on Van Dyke Farm

Good News and Hope

Middlesex County has made an offer to purchase the Van Dyke Farm on Davidson's Mill Road.

The Eastern Villages Association has been working on trying to preserve this valuable historic and natural resource for a number of years, so this news as music to our ears.

The County had several appraisals made of the land, so the offer is fair according to the current market. What remains to be seen is whether the current property owner will entertain the offer.

We are ever hopeful. The farm house dates back to the 1700's and there is a cemetery on the property with gravestones dating back to the American Revolution. As well there is documentation of slaves who worked on the farm and testimony that there is also a slave cemetery on the land. Add to all of this the fact that the farm lies on the northeastern border of the Pigeon Swamp State Park, which holds the only Category 1 water in Middlesex County, and you have a perfect piece of land for such preservation.

EVA, the Township Council, and the County Freeholders have worked long and hard to reach this point. Parntnering with the State of New Jersey in hopes to acquire the property so it may be preserved and protected forever, we all hope the owner and developer will realize how important this purchase is. Here is a chance to treasure and protect both our heritage and the environment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

All Quiet on the Western Side

So, What's Cooking?

The silence here is frustrating, as we really don't know what is going on with the Van Dyke Farm. Assessments are complete and, apparently offers have been made by the County to buy the farm, but so far, no news.

I do need, as well, to ride out to see how the flooding is. My concern is that the CNJ basin, supposedly an infiltration basin, has had water in it since the first rains in October. My understanding was that this particular basin was supposed to drain into the aquifer within 72 hours of a storm such as the ones we've been having.

My calls to the Township and its engineers have not had much of an effect. One of the engineers claims the basin is an infiltration/detention basin that will have water in it due to the overflow from the other basins feeding into it long after a rain, but that does not explain what is happening, nor does it satisfy me.

I was "flu struck" through the early weeks of December, so I haven't managed to follow through on this, so now that I am better, I am going to investigate further and begin some action.

The widening of the NJ Turnpike in the flood area poses another chance to make some really positive corrections of the flooding. I am pleased to report that apparently the Turnpike designers have heard our complaints and, as if the last TP meeting I attended, there are plans to build another detention basin adjacent to the flooded area to control the flow of stormwater. I do need to follow up on this as well to find out the specifics, but this may prove a significant step in remediating the current flood damage.

Here's hoping 2008 brings us success in our endeavors. The EVA remains committed to protecting and preserving the heritage and natural resources of Northeastern South Brunswick.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Flood Study

Accusations Confirmed

The preliminary report from the PMK flood study have confirmed EVA's contentions that the flooding into the Pigeon Swamp State Park is indeed caused by the warehouses to the east.

A thorough analysis of data and the hydrology (the way the water works in an area) bear out the fact that the NJ Turnpike's widening was a minor contribution compared to what happened when the Opus, Wakefern, and Circuit City complexes began piping their overflow stormwater into the Turnpike culverts.

The new CNJ basin has eased the problem a little, but the flooding continues.

What remains to be seen is how the complicated and well designed infiltration basins of the Trammel Crow warehouses, being built now, will affect the situation.

PMK consultant, Joe Skupien, believes those basins will restore the area to close to what it was before the warehouses were built.

I am personally having a probelm grasping that concept. But, I will reserve judgment.

In the meantime, remediation efforts vary from increasing some pipe sizes, again something I question, to, in the long run, reconfiguring the current basins at the involved warehouses.

Members of the Davidson Mill Road Committee are studying the preliminary report and will offer comments before it is finally presented to the Township Council.

For now, we are satisfied to have been proven right about what has been happening.

Stay tuned for more as the situation and report develops.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Warehouse Woes, Somewhere Else

Now It's Matrix

The EVA has long battled warehouses in our area without a lot of support from other areas of town.

Ever since the 8A corridor was defined, the lands east of the NJ Turnpike have fallen to bulldozers and warehouse development despite our efforts and concerns. Our residential areas have been adversely affected by truck traffic, light pollution, noise, and stormwater runoff concerns.

We worry about the aquifer's being covered by pavement and buildings and have seen one house after another along Cranbury-South River Road go up for sale as residents moved away to escape the encroaching industrial development.

Meanwhile, on the southeastern side of town, residents and the Township Government joined forces to protect wetlands and residential areas from Route 92, the Turnpike's solution to an east/west route across the Township.

Route 92 may have gone by the wayside, but now in its place, come the warehouses.

Residents are, like us, rightfully up in arms about this kind of intrusion on their homes. They too fear truck traffic, light pollution, noise, and stormwater runoff. Ironic how easily the battlefield changes in this town.

The Township governing bodies have "sold" the majority of residents on the idea that warehouses are good clean ratables with nothing but benefits to the Township's tax base. The trouble is, the majority of residents to not live in the "warehouse districts" identified by the Township. So, as long as they don't have to suffer the direct impact of such development, the sales pitch that warehouses are good business for South Brunswick plays well to them.

We have tried to change this concept with limited success. Now another group of residents finds themselves in the same position. We share their frustration.

I spoke with an active resident of Millstone Township--accessible to the world through Route 95-- and discovered once again a refreshing and positive concept. Millstone's attitude is that open space and farmland is actually the highest and best use of land. They have established 10 acre zoning. As well, Upper Freehold Township has signed on to protecting its rural areas and just recently fought off an attempt by the Rockefeller group to build a huge warehouse complex in their area.

It's time South Brunswick reevaluated its warehouse ratings chase. The huge CNJ warehouse on Davidson Mill Road, completed nearly a year ago, still has its "for rent" sign posted and no sign of activity there. Those builders swore there was a "desperate" need for bigger and bigger warehouses in the Township.

Something doesn't make sense.

And putting warehouses in people's back yards doesn't make sense either.

It's time for a different approach, even if it's too late for the EVA's acres.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Still Waiting

The Farm and Floods

If patience is a virtue, members of the EVA are among the most virtuous people around.

What are we waiting for?

Serious movement on the Van Dyke Farm purchase for one. According to last week's Sentinel, the assessments are complete at last. But what goes on from there is a matter of pure speculation. If there are negotiations with Morris Developers, they are being kept under wraps. Silence prevails.

What's going on? Only those in the know know and we're not.

And what about the flooding?

My last email to Town Council members elicited a response from PMK that the report would be presented to Township Manager Matt Wakins next week, as he was on vacation. The decision would then be made as to how the report should be presented to the Township.

So much for the July promises.

Meanwhile, the heavy rains and thunderstorms keep coming. And, the ground is being prepared for the rest of the warehouse complexes east of the Park.

More on this situation later--I hope.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Strange Consequences of the Flooding

How Deep Are the Ruts?

The farmer who plants on the Van Dyke Farm got his tractor stuck in the field.

Big deal?

Yes, when you consider he was well up in the field above the flooded area. Yes, when the story goes that a bulldozer could not pull him out and that it took some other heavy equipment to do the job.

What is going on?

This field, like the one on the Habiak Farm that is now a streambed, has been farmed successfully for centuries. Now, a modern tractor cannot plow it to plant seed.

The farmers in the know speculate the hydrology of the area has been severely compromised by the constant flooding.

Whether the engineers will agree or not remains to be seen.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Are We Losing Ground?

New Jersey's Not the Garden State Any More

EVA's battle to save the Van Dyke Farm and to protect the Pigeon Swamp State Park from warehouse flooding continues.

Sometimes it seems we take a few steps forward only to fall back those same few steps soon after. The farm preservation effort is stalled on the State and County levels with no word, good or bad about progress.

The flooding issue waits for the report from PMK scheduled in July, but in the meantime, the water continues to pour across the farm field and into the interior parklands every time there is a heavy rain. The new infiltration basins did little to stop the water during the two big spring storms and now that the water table is high, water will continue to flood into the park, flushing Turnpike runoff onto the lands.

EVA is not alone in its concern about protecting our lands. Michael Levine, a talented moviemaker from West Windsor has seen his area consumed by development as well. With his artistic gift and vision, he has given voice and vision to the vanishing farms of New Jersey.

His film, "Losing Ground," promises to speak eloquently for rural New Jersey. If you are interested in seeing the trailer for his film and learning more about it, visit his website at:

EVA remains committed to preserving the eastern rural areas of South Brunswick. We promise to do all we can to not lose any more of our precious ground .

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We Are in the Times

The New York Times, Sunday March 25, 2007

In New Jersey, Old Slave Quarters vs. New Homes
Dith Pran/The New York Times
Elaine Livingston and Bill Klimowicz belong to a group fighting to save a farmhouse where slaves lived.

Published: March 25, 2007
SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — By the New Jersey Turnpike, where the state’s rural past runs into mammoth warehouses, a tug of war is taking place over the fate of a farmhouse built in 1713 with its cramped slave quarters over the kitchen still intact and a where a Revolutionary-era spinning wheel and a bill of sale for a young black girl were unearthed in the basement.

For the past two years, residents here have been trying to save one of the state’s last historic farmhouses and its trove of artifacts while opening a window even more on New Jersey’s Southern sympathies before and even during the Civil War.

“There’s nothing in any museum that recognizes slavery in New Jersey. That’s why this farm is so important,” said Elaine Livingston, a horse farmer here and a member of the Eastern Villages Association, a group fighting for the farm’s survival.

A retired shop teacher here and another member of Eastern Villages, Bill Klimowicz, drives a couple of miles down Davidson Mill Road to the Van Dyke farm once a month and plants a fresh American flag by each of the two cemeteries at the property’s edge. He can still remember the day in 1960 when he first went there after an elderly neighbor told him a Revolutionary War soldier and his family were buried there.

“I told all my friends,” he recalled. “We would ride our bikes over after school sometimes and just stare at the soldier’s tombstone. We were mesmerized.”

But it was while he and the association members were trying to hold back development — first a warehouse complex and now a swath of new houses — that they learned the gravestone might represent only a small part of the land’s historical significance.

The 229-acre property, bordered on the east by the turnpike, was deeded to the Van Dykes, a Dutch family, in the 1690s. Behind the farmhouse sits an original carriage house, a 19th-century barn and a slave burial site.

The current owner is a man named William Pulda, who bought the property in 1950s from the Van Dyke family. A caretaker family has lived on the farm for nearly 35 years, and local farmers lease the fields, where they grow soybeans and corn.

Two years ago, Mr. Pulda agreed to sell the land to a developer, Joseph Morris. Their contract gave all legal rights to the property to Mr. Morris, who immediately announced a plan to demolish the existing buildings and put up the warehouse complex.

But in February 2005, Mr. Morris unsuccessfully appealed to the town planning board to allow him to rezone the property, and now he says he intends to build a 76-unit housing development instead.

The Van Dyke farm is a rare remnant of a time when New Jersey was a major agricultural center, largely because of the thousands of slaves who cleared forests, started farms and worked the land.

In 1800, there were 12,000 to 14,000 slaves in the state, which might account for why New Jersey and New York were the only Northern states that did not move to end slavery during the Revolutionary War.

A local historian, James Shackleford, says that when he was researching slavery in South Brunswick he found documents in the archives at Rutgers University about a young slave named Amy and other slaves who lived on the Van Dyke farm.

He said the documents also showed Amy gave birth about every two years, with the slave owner apparently aiming to add slaves to his household. The importation of African slaves was banned in the 1780s.

The slave quarters in the farmhouse — where Mr. Shackleford estimates 10 to 12 people lived — consisted of two bare, wooden rooms, each about the size of a walk-in closet, with the original tiny windows and doors still intact, as well as a trap door leading to the kitchen.

“When I first saw them, I was dumbfounded,” Mr. Shackleford said of the quarters. “I looked at those walls, those doors, the starkness, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the real thing.’ ”

For now, the association is clinging to the hope that someone will buy the farm and preserve it. Last year, Preservation New Jersey, a private, membership-supported group, put the farm on its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historical sites. Several state and local agencies have looked into the prospect of saving the property, but so far none of them have made an offer.

Last May, Mr. Morris, the developer, met with township officials and representatives from the state’s Green Acres Program, which provides financing for open space, farmland, and historic preservation. At their urging, Mr. Morris filed an application for preservation, which stated that for the right price — he was asking about $25 million — he might sell the land to the state.

Dith Pran/The New York Times
The farmhouse, on property bordered on the east by the New Jersey Turnpike, was deeded to a Dutch family.

“The state agreed to appraise the land and then give us a figure,” said Frank Petrino, an attorney for Mr. Morris. “If the figure made sense, Mr. Morris was willing to continue the process.”

But the state never completed the appraisal, according to Ralph Albinir, director of the Middlesex County Parks and Recreation Department, because state and local officials could not decide who should conduct it.

By the time the county was ready to move forward about six months later, Mr. Albinir said, Mr. Morris withdrew his application.

“He is a good businessman — he’s always willing to listen to an attractive offer,” Mr. Petrino said of his client, Mr. Morris. “But it’s my impression that there’s not a lot of money at the state level for land acquisition.”

But a spokesman from the Green Acres Program says the Garden State Preservation Trust has $86.8 million in its Green Acres Fund and an additional $84.6 million designated for farmland preservation.

“Everyone just seems to be standing back and waiting for someone else to make the first move,” Mr. Klimowicz said.

“I don’t understand it — plenty of places in the area have been bought for preservation, and certainly none of them had this many qualifications,” he said.

In the early 1980s, developers started buying up property on the east side of the turnpike between exits 9 and 8A, slowly at first, and recently with more zeal.

Farms have begun to disappear as the warehouses have crept closer and closer to the turnpike, which itself was expanded to 10 lanes from six along the stretch there in 1990.

“There used to be so many beautiful farms on the other side of Davidson Mill Road,” said Jean Dvorak, a high school English teacher who has been fighting to save historical and natural resources in the area for 20 years. “Sometimes when I drive along it now I just cringe. The Van Dyke farm is the proverbial line in the sand, and the state and local government must make sure that no one crosses it. Otherwise, a valuable piece of our history will be lost forever.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Trucks to the Right of Them, Trucks to the Left.....

So Let's Be Fair

I certainly respect Kingston residents' concerns about big trucks being allowed to use Route 27. All of their arguments against it are valid.

But let's be fair. If the Mayor and Council want to rise to Kingston's defense, then they should also take a good look at the problem elsewhere in the Township.

The Davidson Mill Road Committee completed its traffic study of the eastern portion of the Township in July, 2006. The report received a reply from the police/traffic department, but so far the Council has not taken up the issues.

Let's see. Kingston residents claim Route 27 is too narrow for trucks, it has no shoulders, it passes through residential areas, and that truck vibrations can damage historic buildings.

Deans-Rhode Hall Road is narrow, it has no shoulders, it passes through residential areas, and truck vibrations regularly shake homes.

Route 27 is a State road, and the Mayor seems willing to fight to protect its residents from trucks. Deans-Rhode Hall Road is a County road and the Township traffic department claims that because of that, there is no way to control the truck traffic.

At one point, the completion of Route 522 was supposedly going to take the trucks off residential roads in the east of town. The last time the question was brought up, County control over those roads was used to claim no promises could be made. Why does the Mayor and, I presume, the Council seem prepared to petition against State traffic regulations while not being willing to do the same on the County level?

While trucks rumble through residential areas in Deans, Dayton, and the rest of the Eastern Villages, we read that Kingston residents and the Mayor are ready to stand in opposition to trucks on 27.

Sure, Kingston residents deserve protection, but what about the rest of us?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

It's Been A While

Waiting 'Til the Leaves Fall

PMK Engineering told us, back in July that they needed to wait until the leaves fell off the trees to do the aerial photography they needed to complete the flooding study in the swamp.

The leaves fell. November passed. December passed.

In January, I went before the Township Council and asked what was going on.

According to Matt Watkins, PMK would have a report on February 6. However, this was not a written report, but a verbal one.

Then, the newspapers published that PMK was going to be asking for more money for an aerial study. No explanation yet on that one.

Finally a representative of PMK contacted me to request a site visit of the flooded area.

By now, with the completion of the huge infiltration basins at the CNJ warehouse, there is no warehouse runoff crossing into the Park.

Does that mean the flooding is gone?

No way. A combination of runoff from the Turnpike and all the huge amounts of water that had flooded in before the CNJ completion have still left their mark on the area. The trees are under water and the right of way under the JCP&L lines is still flooded.

How can this be after so many months? 4.5 million gallons of water flooded into the Park after nearly every rainfall. The soils there are not particularly pourous, so after several episodes, I suspect the area just became supersaturated and the water table rose. The size of the flooded area has certainly lessened and although I haven't walked it recently, it probably no longer floods all the way into the woods. But, it's still there and will be until the heat of the summer or a drought absorbs it all.

I think the tour left a suitable impression on the PMK engineer, but only time will tell.

How much time?

Will the leaves be back before we know?

Stay tuned for updates.