Like every municipality in New Jersey, Medford Township has zoning regulations, which were authorized by a 1927 Amendment to the New Jersey Constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized that zoning is essential "to protect property values.”
The Carnes family owns approximately 30 acres on Medford Mount Holly Road here in Medford. The property is farmland assessed which means that the property has a reduced tax assessment, and the property owner pays less taxes because a portion of the property derives income from agricultural uses on the property.
In the 1948 Medford zoning ordinance the Carns property was zoned A-Agriculture which permitted single-family dwellings, farming and roadside stands for the sale of farm products.
The property is currently zoned Agricultural Retention permitting housing at very low densities and agricultural and farming activities.
For over 75 years, the Carnes property has never been zoned to allow commercial or nonagricultural uses on the property.
Yet for years, the Township has received complaints that the Carnes have used, and continue to use, the property for its Cornerstone Tree Service business including storing and using commercial equipment and vehicles such as dump trucks and woodchippers on the property.
The first violations occurred in 2016 and the Carns family applied for a use variance to allow the Cornerstone Tree Service to be operated at the property. The Carns family withdrew the application and agreed to only keep one commercial vehicle at the property and to not use the property for the Cornerstone Tree Service business. No fines or penalties were issued at that time.
Yet the Carnes have continued to use the property for the tree service business and have kept commercial vehicles on the property. The Carns have advertised the property as the Cornerstone Tree Service business address. As the Township proved in court, the Carns have continually stated in public that they intend to operate the Cornerstone Tree Service business at the property. The Township provided the court with at least 8 instances that Carns stated in
public that they were operating the business at the property.
As recently as the last Medford Township Council meeting on December 6, Brian Carns stated in public that they want to operate their small business at the property.
The most recent complaint in April of this year resulted in the Carnes being again charged with illegally operating the Cornerstone Tree Service business on the property and illegally storing and using more than one commercial vehicle at the property.
On May 1, in response to a request from the Carns, the Township advised the Carns that the Ordinance penalties could be up to $1,000 per day and that each day of the violation constitutes a separate offense. the Township further advised the Carns that the Township would seek enhanced penalties because the violations represent a clear and unambiguous intent to continue to violate the law over an extended period of time and after the Carns had previously agreed to stop the illegal use of the property.
With full knowledge of the potential penalties, the Carns then plead guilty to both offenses and the court imposed a $5,000 fine for each offense, because the Carns were persistent and repetitive violators and could have been fined even more if the Township had requested it.
Although they had full knowledge of the potential penalties before pleading guilty, the Carns have now appealed the sentence, which, of course, they have the right to do. The Township Council is making this statement because its members are tired of being accused in public and on social media of being biased against the Carns and accused of seeking revenge against the Carns. The Township Council has remained silent while the matter has worked its way through the court process, but enough is enough.
To make it crystal clear, the Medford Township Council has no bias toward the Carns family, none whatsoever.
The Township Council is not seeking revenge against the Carns, in any way or in any manner.
The Township has no desire to own the property or have it developed.
When the Township receives a complaint, it is obligated to investigate it, for the protection of all of its residents. The Township has occasionally had to inform other businesses that they were improperly operating in a residential zone. In every instance, except for the Carns, the business owner has ceased a violation.
That is all that the Township wants the Carns to do: obey the law, like the rest of our residents do, to keep Medford Township as a wonderful place to live and raise a family.