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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Frequently Asked Questions about Local and Nonprofit Assistance


The Local and Nonprofit Assistance program provides funding and technical assistance to municipal and county governments and nonprofit land trusts to acquire land for recreation and conservation purposes and to develop outdoor recreational facilities.

Funding and Eligibility Questions Local/Nonprofit Process Questions


FUNDING/ELIGIBILITY

Q What can be acquired with Green Acres money?

A A local government or nonprofit organization can use Green Acres funding to acquire land that will be used for public outdoor recreation or conservation purposes. You can buy the land in fee or acquire a conservation easement, with public access.

We can help you buy land that contains buildings as long as they will be used in support of outdoor recreation, they are historic, or will be demolished to create open space. We cannot help you buy contaminated land unless it is cleaned up to the Department's satisfaction.

Once acquired, the land can be used for “passive” recreation (such as walking, hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, birdwatching, nature observation, boating, picknicking, fishing and hunting), “active” recreation (such as playgrounds, athletic fields, outdoor basketball and tennis courts, outdoor swimming pools, outdoor skate parks and outdoor ice rinks) or conservation (such as nature preserves and arboretums.).

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Q What can be developed with Green Acres money?

A For Green Acres purposes, “development” is the improvement of parkland with facilities for outdoor recreation and/or conservation purposes. Examples of development projects include construction of tot lots, athletic fields, running tracks, athletic courts, walkways, trails, boat ramps and boardwalks. Structures that will be used to support the outdoor recreation use of parkland (such as restrooms, maintenance sheds, or concession stands) may be constructed with Green Acres funds.

Green Acres funds cannot be used to construct buildings for indoor recreation purposes.

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Q What types of projects are not eligible for Green Acres funding?

For acquisitions:

  • Any site to be purchased in fee simple to which public access is not provided;
  • Any permanent conservation restriction or historic preservation restriction that does not provide meaningful public access as determined by Green Acres;
  • Any structure that will not be used in support of outdoor recreation and conservation purposes, demolished to create open space, or preserved as an historic site;
  • Any site that is, or is intended to be, used as a public road right–of–way;
  • Any site with uninsurable or unmarketable title; or
  • Any site that is already permanently preserved for recreation and conservation purposes, as determined by Green Acres.

For developments:

  • Any facility or structure that does not support outdoor recreation or conservation;
  • Any facility to which public access is not provided;
  • A professional sports facility;
  • Any development that will significantly impair the land's natural resources, as determined by Green Acres; or
  • Shore protection or beach renourishment or replenishment activities that are eligible for funding under the Department's Shore Protection Program, administered by the Bureau of Coastal Engineering in the Office of Engineering and Construction.

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Q How much money does Green Acres have available?

A The Green Acres, Water Supply and Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 2009, approved by the voters in November 2009, authorized a total of $242 million for Green Acres purposes, broken down as follows:

$ 90 million for State Acquisition and development $110 million for Local grants and loans (acquisition and development) $ 18 million for Nonprofit matching grants (acquisition and development) $ 24 million for Blue Acres (State acquisition of properties in certain floodways that are prone to flood or storm damage)

Half of the funds authorized under the 2009 Green Acres bond are already committed to specific projects. The next funding round will use the balance of the 2009 bond act.

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Q What types of funding are available to towns, counties, and nonprofits? Grants or loans?

A All nonprofit funding is in the form of a 50% matching grant, whether for an acquisition or development project.

For local governments, there are different funding scenarios depending on the type of project you have, the population density of your community, and whether or not you have an open space tax.

Acquisition:

  • If you have an open space tax and an Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) approved by Green Acres, you may qualify under our Planning Incentive category and are eligible for a 50% matching grant.

  • If you do not yet have an open space tax, you are in our Standard Acquisition category and you may qualify for a 25% grant and the balance as a loan, at 2% interest over 30 years.

  • If the site is located in an Urban Aid municipality, you may qualify for a 75% grant, with the balance as a loan (0% interest, 30 year payback). (Please see www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/muniaid/09_aid/ua_fy10_pub_notice.htm for a current list of Urban Aid municipalities.)

Park Development:

  • Standard Development projects are those sponsored by our more rural, less developed municipalities and counties. Funding is in the form of a 2% loan with a 20–year payback.

  • Densely/Highly Populated projects are those in our more urbanized municipalities and counties. Funding is offered as a 25% grant with the balance as a 2% interest loan.

  • Urban Aid development projects are located in Urban Aid municipalities and receive 50% matching grants with the balance as a loan (0% with 20 year payback). (Please see www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/muniaid/09_aid/ua_fy10_pub_notice.htm for a current list of Urban Aid municipalities.)

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Q Are nonprofit organizations eligible to apply for Green Acres funds?

A To qualify for Green Acres funding, your organization must be exempt from federal taxation pursuant to Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code and the purposes of your organization must include “the acquisition and preservation of land or water areas or of a particular land or water area, or either thereof, in a natural, scenic or open condition.” See N.J.S.A. 13:8B-2, 13:8C–2 and 13:8C–27(c).

If your organization qualifies for Green Acres funding, you may apply for 50% matching grants for either land acquisition anywhere in New Jersey, or park development projects in specific densely populated or urban areas. (Contact Green Acres for a specific list of municipalities/counties.)

All land acquired or developed by a nonprofit using Green Acres funding must be open to the public.

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Q Matching grants — How do counties, towns or nonprofits usually come up with the match?

A All nonprofit acquisitions/development and many municipal and County projects are required to provide a match for Green Acres funding. Matching fund options include:

  • Bargain Sales — The best option to raise matching funds is to negotiate a bargain sale on the property with the landowner. Many landowners are willing to agree to bargain sales because they can take a tax deduction for the difference between the value of the property and the sale price (which is considered a charitable donation for tax purposes.) For example, if the certified market value of a property is $100,000 and the property owner is willing to sell it to you for $50,000, the difference (donation of $50,000 of land value) can serve as your match. That donation/match option applies to both local government and nonprofit projects. We encourage you to discuss bargain sales with your sellers, but you should also advise them to seek professional advice on whether the proposed bargain sale qualifies for a deduction under State and federal tax codes.

  • Federal Funds — Federal funding for land preservation or park development that is obtained directly by a County, municipality or nonprofit organization may be used to match Green Acres funds.

  • State Funds — Other sources of State funding may be used to match Green Acres funding (except for funding provided from the Garden State Preservation Trust through the Green Acres Program, the Farmland Preservation Program, or the New Jersey Historic Trust.) Our applicants are often able to obtain funding from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program (“EIFP”), which distributes low interest loan money for acquisition of land for water quality protection purposes. Funding for creation of bike paths and other transportation-related park development is sometimes available from programs administered by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Other State agencies also administer funding that can be used for land acquisition or park development projects.

  • County Open Space Funds — Many towns and nonprofits apply for funds from the various county open space funding programs that have been established in New Jersey. These programs are funded through open space taxes authorized by County voters and/or bonds issued by the County. These funds can also be used by counties as a match when they apply for Green Acres funds.

  • Local Open Space Funds — Towns often bond for their matching share of a Green Acres project or use their open space tax revenue.

  • Private Funds — Nonprofits very successfully raise funds from private sources, including individual donors, foundations and bequests.

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Q Can Green Acres funding be used to acquire conservation easements on land?

A In those instances when a fee simple purchase is not possible, but preservation of a site's natural or historic resources fulfills a compelling public need, Green Acres will consider funding the purchase of a permanent conservation or historic preservation restriction, or “easement.” The easement must allow for meaningful public access, as determined by Green Acres, and must preserve the site's recreation and conservation resources to a degree that warrants the investment of Green Acres funding. In certain instances, Green Acres will reduce its participation when meaningful access cannot be provided but the purchase of the easement is still vital. All easement purchase must be reviewed with Green Acres prior to commencing the project, to ensure eligibility.

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LOCAL/NONPROFIT PROCESS

Q When are applications due?

A The deadline for applications for our next funding round will be February 15, 2012. We have sent a letter to all municipal and county clerks, and a wide variety of nonprofit organizations, announcing the deadline and inviting them to apply for funding.

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Q What is the application/approval process?

Once all applications are submitted, they are ranked by Green Acres according to our Priority Ranking System (which can be found in the application or in our rules at N.J.A.C. 7:36 or http://nj.gov/dep/greenacres/regs.pdf). Planning Incentive projects are not ranked since those acquisitions are based on an approved Open Space and Recreation Plan.

Green Acres determines which projects will be recommended for approval based on the rankings and the available funding. That list is then forwarded to the Garden State Preservation Trust, which has the authority to approve the projects. Once the Garden State Preservation Trust approves the list, we will notify you that your project has been approved subject to appropriation of the funds by the New Jersey Legislature.

The approved projects are listed on appropriations bills that must then go through the Legislature. This process can take some time, and is out of Green Acres' control, as the bills go through several committees before being voted on by both houses of the Legislature. The appropriation bills then go to the Governor for signature. Once the Governor signs the appropriation bill, we will notify you and will begin to work with you on a Project Agreement which formally establishes your approved funding account.

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Q How long do we have to actually buy the land or build the park?

A Once funding for a project is approved and appropriated, Green Acres prepares a Project Agreement (contract) between the local government/nonprofit and the State for the approved funding and scope. Those contracts carry a term of two years, by which time you need to have completed the project. Buying land or constructing a park can be a very complicated process, however, whether or not you use Green Acres money. We will be working closely with you as you proceed, so as long as we know you are following our procedures and making significant progress during each step of the process, we will consider granting an extension.

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Q What are the technical requirements for an acquisition project?

A We require you to obtain the same reports that you would usually obtain as part of generally accepted due diligence for real estate transactions in New Jersey.

  • We ask you to do a Preliminary Assessment (PA) to make sure there isn't a concern about hazardous site contamination. We will review the PAs, to protect us, and you, from spending money on land that may pose a public health risk. If areas of concern are identified, we will guide you on how to address those issues.

  • >Appraisals are necessary to make sure you are paying a fair price. We require one appraisal for properties with an estimated value under $250,000, and two appraisals for properties valued over $250,000. Appraisals MUST be done by Green Acres approved appraisers, under our guidance; those done without our oversight may not be accepted and may need to be redone at your expense. Green Acres reviews the appraisals and certifies to a fair market value, which sets the limit of our funding participation.

  • An accurate survey, with a legal description, is critical so that your deed accurately reflects what you've purchased. We provide guidelines for surveys which MUST be followed.

  • It is important to obtain a title search and get title insurance to make sure you are buying all the interest you think you are buying from the legal owner and to ensure there are no legal impediments to your acquisition.

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Q What costs does Green Acres pay for?

A For acquisitions:

  • The cost to acquire land, based on the certified market value
  • Appraisals
  • Survey
  • Preliminary assessment, and additional testing, as determined by Green Acres
  • Well testing
  • Relocation
  • Demolition (up to a cap)
  • Incidental costs such as financial, legal, or planning fees (up to a cap)

For developments:

  • Construction
  • Engineering/oversight (capped at 13% of cost of construction)
  • Preliminary assessment, and additional testing, as determined by Green Acres
  • Permit fees
  • Cost of equipment necessary to make a facility operational
  • Incidental costs such as financial, legal, or planning fees (up to a cap)

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Q What costs won't Green Acres pay for?

A For acquisitions:

  • Administrative and operating costs and salary and/or wages of any employee of the local government unit or nonprofit;
  • Real property taxes;
  • Costs associated with an application that is not approved; and
  • Remediation work.

For developments:

  • Administrative and operating costs and salaries and/or wages of any employee of the local government unit or nonprofit incurred as part of the development project;
  • Costs associated with an application that is not approved; and
  • Remediation work.

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Q Can we pay a landowner more than certified market value for a property?

A Green Acres establishes our limit of funding based on the certified market value that we establish for the property (using appraisals you provide and we review as part of the application process). If you decide for purposes of negotiating with the landowner that it is necessary to spend more than certified fair market value for a property, you must use other funds to pay the difference between the certified market value and the contract price. For example, if we certify a market value of $100,000 for a property to be purchased with a Planning Incentive grant, we can provide you up to $50,000 in Green Acres funding toward the acquisition, even if your contract price for the property exceeds $100,000.

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Q What are Green Acres' technical requirements for a development project?

A We require you to perform the same due diligence and reports that you would usually obtain as part of generally accepted due diligence for real estate transactions in New Jersey.

  • Just as with acquisition projects, we require all applicants to obtain a Preliminary Assessment to ensure that the land intended for a park does not pose any risk to public health. Again, we will assist you in resolving any issues that are raised as part of the Preliminary Assessment.

  • All development projects funded by Green Acres must be administered in accordance with the Local Public Contracts Laws, N.J.S.A. 40A:11-1 et seq. This requirement applies to nonprofit development projects, too.

  • Construction plans must be reviewed by Green Acres prior to bidding to ensure that the project scope matches what was approved.
  • When construction is complete, Green Acres will inspect the project and request appropriate engineering certifications that show that the project was appropriately designed and constructed.

  • You are responsible for getting all required permits and approvals for your project.

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Q When/how do we get our money?

A. Once a project is approved and appropriated, we will send you Project Agreements (contracts) which, once executed, will be used to set up an account from which we will make disbursements for your project. When all procedural steps have been completed, and all required support documents have been submitted, you may request payment. For an acquisition project, payment can be made in advance (within 30 days) of closing or as reimbursement after you acquire the land. For development projects, payment can be made in advance (based on a contractor's bill) or as a reimbursement after you have paid the bills. Loan payments will be wired into a special non-interest-bearing account you must open to receive Green Acres funding. Grant payments will be mailed and must be deposited into your Green Acres account. These payments, and this account, are subject to audit.

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Q What is a Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI)?

A When a town or county applies for Green Acres funding, it is required to prepare a Recreation and Open Space Inventory (“ROSI”) listing all the land it already holds for recreation and conservation purposes, whether or not such lands were acquired or developed with Green Acres funds. We also ask you to indicate which properties on the ROSI were funded by Green Acres. The ROSI becomes part of the contract we sign with you, and under the contract you agree to continue to use the lands listed on the ROSI only for recreation and conservation purposes. The ROSI is recorded with your County clerk's office once we make our first payment to you, so that everyone is on notice that your parkland is permanently protected by Green Acres.

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Q Does Green Acres own an interest in the land once a nonprofit acquires or develops it?

A When Green Acres provides funding to a nonprofit for the acquisition of land or the development of recreational facilities, it must provide to the State, at no cost, a conservation restriction on that land. Green Acres and the nonprofit will prepare this restriction which will ensure that the land is held for public recreation and conservation purposes in perpetuity. The nonprofit must record the restriction with the County clerk's office upon payment from Green Acres.

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