Exemption is the root of a sales problem


Staff Writer

LACEY -- In the world according to the state Pinelands Commission, being a “piney” is more than just a privilege.  It is a non-transferable privilege.

         The commission, which oversees land development in the environmentally sensitive Pine Barrens, offers “piney exemptions” to persons who owned their property before February 1979, and who can demonstrate some attachment or roots in the area.

         In practical terms, this means a “piney” (or the heir to a pines landowner’s estate) can build a house in an area where outsiders could not. 

         But exemptions don’t help much in selling property, according to Mr. and Mrs. John Burdge of Bamber.

         The Burdges, who’ve lived here on Lacey Road since 1968, plan to sell their existing home, which sits on 11 acres, and retire to South Carolina.

         Burdge said he was recently offered $115,000 for his property on the condition that the new buyer -- a non-piney -- be able to build another house on it.

         As a matter of fact, Burdge said, several deals have failed in the recent past, all because the land is in the commission’s “preservation area,” which prohibits the building of single-family dwellings except by long-time residents.

         “The DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) and the Pinelands Commission say that we -- the original owners -- can build a house, and sell it, but we can’t sell it to someone else for them to build on it.  That’s asinine,” said Burdge, who is employed in the Lacey Township Public Works Department.

         To build a house himself and then sell it to someone else would require considerable capital, and the acceptance of the chance that the deal might eventually fall through, Burdge said.

         Burdge has taken his case to Assemblyman Jorge Rod, R-Ocean, a frequent critic of the Pinelands Commission, who has promised to intercede.  Rod said he will meet with Howard Wolf, the DEP’s director of land.

         Burdge, 52, said he will settle for a somewhat lesser price than would be offered a private individual “just so I can break even and get out of here.  I want to retire now, not when I’m 80.”

         Although the DEP, under the direction of the Pinelands Commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan, is buying thousands of acres in Lacey for the purpose of conservation, the Burdges’ property is not on the list.

         An additional wrinkle to the story is the fact that the commission has designated Bamber as a “Pinelands Village,” whose inhabitants enjoy considerably greater development opportunities.

         Burdge said he hasn’t been able to get a firm answer from the commission on whether his property falls within the village’s boundaries, which are said to be vague at present.

         Bob Bembridge, a spokesman for the commission, said the Burdges could probably obtain a “piney exemption” under the CMP, although they have not applied for such consideration.

        Bembridge indicated that the plan does not allow such exemptions to be transferred to new owners.

         “If we were to allow piney exemptions not just to the original owners but to new owners too, then pretty soon there wouldn’t be a preservation area,” Bembridge said.

         The spokesman said he didn’t know whether Burdge’s opportunity to build a house could be extended to another party through a hardship waiver of the plan’s rules.  The commission sometimes grants waivers because of compelling economic problems stemming from enforcement of the CMP.

         Piney exemptions did not exist in 1979, when commission staff members finished a first draft of the CMP, Bembridge said, adding the changes resulted from public opinion.

         “We put the piney exemption in the plan because the public wanted it.  It wasn’t in the draft,” Bembridge said.

         Although the exemptions are not transferable, the concept of selling development opportunities exists through the CMP’s development credit program.

         Under this part of the plan, landowners in undevelopable areas could sell credits that would permit the buyer to build on developable areas at higher densities than otherwise allowed. 

         So far, however, development credits are available in only limited circumstances, and are more of a concept than a practice.     

Ocean County Observer, Toms River, NJ, 03/28/83