Holmdel pressing to save DePalma farm


State Sen. John Bennett (R-12) and Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) (second and third from left) tour a portion of the DePalma Farm Monday with (continuing from l) Holmdel Deputy Mayor Art Davey and Mayor Gary Aumiller and Larry Fink.

Holt press conference

moved; publicity having negative effect


press conference scheduled to be held at the DePalma farm in Holmdel Monday morning was moved to Wind Hill Road after the DePalmas requested that the meeting be canceled.

The 96-acre property, which has been in the spotlight lately, is the largest piece of open space in the northern part of Holmdel and all but 11 acres is to be liquidated in order to satisfy outstanding inheritance taxes.

Holmdel Township Committeeman Joe Speranza spearheaded a project to purchase the land, according to Committeeman Terence Wall, and the Township Committee unanimously decided to submit a bid last Friday to the court.

But, according to Wall, all this publicity has cast a negative light on the DePalmas’ business.

"The publicity is making people think that the farm is going out of business," said Wall. "It should be clear that the farm is fully operational, and is offering the same services they always have."

When township officials showed up at the DePalma Farm at 9 a.m. Monday, family members were caught by surprise.

"On Friday, when I hung up the phone with Congressman Holt’s assistant, I was under the impression that the meeting would be rescheduled," said a member of the DePalma family who did not wish to be identified.

"We did not want the press conference to be held on Monday on our property."

Instead of meeting at the farm, Congressman Rush Holt (D-12), who has been a frequent visitor to Holmdel lately, addressed Mayor Gary Aumiller and other Holmdel officials on the importance of preserving open space on Wind Hill Road, which splits the De Palmas’ property.

Holt supports a bill that would phase out state taxes for family-owned businesses and farms.

"People care about open space, and I think we should go to extraordinary measures to save it," said Holt. "This bill is intended to support what towns and states are trying to do."

Despite the last minute location change, Larry Fink, who chairs the township’s Environmental Commission and is a member of the Open Space Advisory Council, felt that the meeting was productive.

"I think it is an honor to have a congressman take interest in a local issue," said Fink. "If we don’t preserve farms we won’t be able to call ourselves the ‘Garden State.’"

Fink added that although Holmdel has missed opportunities to preserve open space in the past, purchasing the DePalma property is something that Holmdel officials support wholeheartedly.

The acquisition would be in keeping with the township’s open space study, which calls for preserving "at least one large tract in northern Holmdel … for continued use as farmland" and for expanding an existing park or providing a new park in northern Holmdel. It also calls for preserving one large tract in southern Holmdel for continued use as farmland.

Should Holmdel’s bid to purchase the land be successful, the town plans to continue leasing the land to the DePalmas.

According to Wall, the township’s bid, which was submitted March 3, was based on an appraisal and made through attorney James Cleary, who has been appointed by the court to liquidate the property to satisfy outstanding inheritance taxes and distribute the balance to the beneficiaries of Filomena DePalma.

Wall declined to say what the township’s bid was, but said he had heard that bids ranged from $4-6 million.

Cleary circulated a notice to potential developers inviting them to bid for a residential single family development, according to attorney Robert F. Dato, who represents the interests of Patrick, Andrew, Marie and Philip DePalma, and notified Wall, as chairman of the Holmdel Open Space Advisory Council, of the planned liquidation.

According to Dato’s Feb. 10 letter to Wall, his clients object to the sale of the property for residential development and prefer to see it preserved as open space and farmland.

"We encourage the involvement of your council and the township of Holmdel in attempting to preserve this property, and we seek your support in our efforts to discourage nonfarmland development," Dato wrote.

The property, which consists of five lots and is divided by Wind Hill Way, includes three family burying grounds, one of which would require an easement for access if the land were developed.

A total of 83 percent (77 acres) of the land is farmed and 16 percent (15 acres) is wooded, according to the township’s 1999 Preserving Open Space in Holmdel Inventory and Evaluation.

The tract is considered a potential school site in the township’s 1989 master plan.