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Open Space Executive Summary
Click here for the Open Space Plan
Union Township is an agriculturally oriented community located in western Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The Township is 13,526 acres, or 21.1 square miles, in area, and is bisected by Interstate 78, which runs east-west roughly through the center of the Township.
Approximately one-third of the Township is located in the Highlands physiographic province; the balance is in the Piedmont. South of Interstate 78 and in the western section of the Township, the terrain is gently rolling in a patchwork of forest and farmland, with numerous streams flowing through gentle valleys. The northeast section of Union is a broad plain situated at the base of Musconetcong Mountain, which forms the first ridges of the Highlands. In this plain several waterways, such as Mulhockaway Creek, Spruce Run and Black Brook, flow into Spruce Run Reservoir, one of the state’s largest water bodies and the source of drinking water for nearly 2 million New Jersey residents.
Soils in the Piedmont are especially suited for farming, and Union’s historical legacy reflects the importance of agriculture in the community’s development. Today 25% of Union is farmland, scattered throughout the Township. The Rockhill National Agricultural Historic District, located in the southeast section of Union, contains some of the highest quality farmland in the Township. There are three additional historic districts in Union Township, one of which is listed on the state and national register.
Spruce Run Recreation Area and Clinton Wildlife Management Area, both contained in the same state holding, are prominent recreation areas in the Township. Together they comprise 3,193 acres, or 24% of the Township’s land area. Union Township’s Finn Road Park is the primary active recreation site. A Township holding off Strotz Road contains both passive and active recreation. Hunterdon County operates one park, the Union Forge Nature Preserve. Hoffman Park, centrally located in the Township, is owned jointly by Union Township and Hunterdon County. In the Township, a total of 4,362 acres, or 32%, have been permanently preserved.
Union Township established an open space tax in November of 1998. The open space trust is funded by an amount of $0.02 per $100 of assessed property value. The Trust Fund is expected to generate $126,000 in 2002.
This Plan includes an inventory of potentially available open space consisting of vacant land, residential property 3 acres and greater, farmland assessed property and tax exempt land. These properties are included in the Appendix; they are also represented on the Open Space Map and the Greenways Map in the Maps Section of the Plan. Union Township has a potential open space inventory of 6,360 acres, or 47% of the Township’s land area.
The Open Space and Recreation Plan has incorporated Union Township’s goals in determining its recommendations. The Plan recommends the conservation of groundwater recharge areas upon which the town is wholly dependent for drinking water and agricultural production. Agriculture is an important aspect of the community’s economy. Residents cite the pastoral scenes within the Township as reasons for living in Union. Thus, farmland preservation figured prominently as a recommendation in this Plan. Other recommendations include the preservation of wooded areas, the protection of stream corridors, and the establishment of a system of greenways linking preserved open space in the Township.
The Plan concludes with an Action Program that suggests steps toward implementing the Open Space and Recreation Plan.
This section defines the methods of preservation occurring in Union Township. The use of these terms throughout the Plan will conform to these definitions.
A conservation easement is a recorded document that limits the type and amount of development that may occur on a property. The specific terms of a conservation easement can vary for each property, but the overriding purpose is to preserve the natural, scenic, historic and cultural features found on the property. Conservation easements are recorded with the deed, permanently eliminating the right to develop the property.
A landowner can sell or donate a conservation easement to another party, such as the Township or a non-profit land trust.
The first farmette in Union Township was established in 1984. The municipal ordinance establishing farmettes allowed for clustering in Agricultural Development Areas within Union with the provision that there could be only one unit per 25 acres of the open space around the clustered development. The remaining land is deed restricted to prevent further development. The goal of establishing farmettes was to retain prime agricultural soils after a subdivision on farmland had occurred. By keeping the land open the ability for that land to be farmed in the future was preserved.
In 1999 the ordinance was changed to prevent any dwellings from being constructed on the open land around subdivisions. The only buildings allowed are those that are directly related to agricultural production. This new rule was put in place to safeguard against farmettes becoming estates with no intention of ever being farmed (Carter Van Dyke, personal communication).
Preserved farmland means that the state Farmland Preservation Program and/or the County Agricultural Development Board has purchased the development rights of a particular farm. The terms of this agricultural easement are generally that preserved farmland cannot be developed for anything other than agriculture; the property is intended to remain actively farmed.
Private open space
Private open space refers to land that has been set aside and reserved for private use, either by an individual or a group of individuals. Structures, streets and parking facilities can be constructed on private open space provided it does not deter the natural openness of the land.
Union Township Recreation and Open Space Inventory
A Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) is a legal contract with New Jersey Green Acres. The state requires a municipality to complete a ROSI whenever that municipality accepts state funding for land acquisition. A ROSI must include all land that is being held by the municipality for conservation or recreation purposes at the time of acceptance of state money.
The ROSI prevents the land listed from being diverted to uses other than conservation and recreation. The land is subject to Green Acres regulations and review.