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Proposed Agricultural Heritage Site On Track For Master Plan Inclusion

Amending the township's Master Plan with the agricultural center proposal would lend more weight to project, aid in getting funding, supporters say.

ag heritage centerA plan for a township agricultural heritage center on Jan. 8 crept a little closer to being included in the township’s Master Plan.

Two members of the township’s Historical Preservation Advisory Commission – Barbara Lawrence and Andrew Gurian – appeared before the Planning Board to ask that it include their project in the plan.

Doing so, they said, would give the plan more legitimacy and aid in fundraising efforts.

Their pleas worked: Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner, said he would include it among several proposed Master Plan amendments that the Planning Board will entertain in the spring.

The idea is to turn the Stoothoff-Gunther Farmstead on South Middlebush Road into an agricultural historical site.

The Franklin Agricultural Heritage Center, as it would be called, would draw an estimated 17,000 visitors a year and provide a place for recreation, education and preservation, supporters say.

The 1740s farm house’s first floor would be used as a museum and exhibit space, and the barn would be preserved and used as a teaching space, Lawrence has said.

The center would require a capital investment of about $1.7 million, cost about $220,000 a year to operate and could generate about $40,000 a year in revenue as an eco-tourism destination site, supporters say.

Lawrence said she envisions a public-private partnership raising the money and administering the site.

Organizers have already received about $235,000 from Somerset County that will be used to stabilize the property’s farm house, Lawrence has said.

Lawrence appeared before the Planning Board late last year to give them an introduction to the idea; on Jan. 8 she was there to formally ask the board to give the plan an official imprimatur.

“Putting it in the Master Plan is saying this is how we want to use the land, and how we want to serve the citizens,” Lawrence said.

Adding it to the Master Plan would also serve as an incentive for the township to move on the idea, Gurian said.

“It’s a defined use,” he said. “One criticism we often hear is that we have all this open space,and nothing is done with it. By amending it into the Master Plan, you’re giving it a little more clout to have the township move forward with it.”

Some board members openly supported the idea.

“It would be a benefit, certainly when you go to outside sources for money, to have it in the Master Plan,” said board chairman Michael Orsini.

“If you ultimately can develop this site the way you have it laid out, then it becomes a destination,” he said. “Absent this type of effort, you’re going to have these farm houses deteriorate.”

Board member Bob LaCorte said the township’s support “would give a little more weight to getting grant money.”

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