BMW’s Farmland Assessment Request Veers Off Course
Between 1998 and 2006, BMW permitted a tenant farmer to tend a 20 acre apple orchard which was part of a larger assemblage of property intended to house BMW’s corporate headquarters in the future. The orchard maintained farmland assessment status during this period, and contained over 200 trees, a body of water used as part of the farming activities, and produced 1,800 to 2,000 bushels of apples a year. BMW paid the tenant farmer $30,000 per year to maintain the orchard, as well as all proceeds from the apples. In 2004, BMW approached Woodcliff Lake about changing the zoning of the subject property to permit office space, which was adopted in 2005. BMW thereafter submitted its site plan application to develop its corporate headquarters. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, BMW submitted its Farmland Assessment applications which were denied because the property was no longer used exclusively for agricultural or horticultural purposes, and imposed roll-back taxes for 2004, 2005, and 2006. This appeal followed.
Following a trial on the matter, the Tax Court determined that the evidence supported the assessor’s decision to deny the application. Only 3.189 acres and 63 trees remained which were actively used for agricultural or horticultural purposes, and neighboring wetlands could not be included to meet the 5-acre minimum because they were not used in the farming activities. Additionally, the farmed areas were intersected by driveways. The Tax Court further found that the municipality had established by a preponderance of the evidence that there was a change in use of the property, and that the dominant use of the land was as the corporate headquarters. Thus, the assessment of roll-back taxes under the clear language of N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.5 was authorized.
Farmland assessments are granted to encourage the preservation of farmland by providing a reduced assessment to land devoted to agricultural or horticultural use. The rollback provision of the Farmland Assessment Act is intended to protect municipalities from land speculators who may try to receive a reduced assessment until the time is right to develop the property.
A copy of the Tax Court’s opinion in BMW of North America, LLC v. Borough of Woodcliff Lake may be found here.
For more blog posts on farmland assessments in New Jersey, please see the following: