Christmas tree farmers witness imminent condominium development
LOPATCONG TOWNSHIP — The contrast is startling.
The cozy stone 1700s farmhouse belongs to John and Cynthia Curtis with a hill of Christmas trees on one side of Route 22 and faces giant warehouses almost up to the right-of-way.
Just past the trees, a giant pile of dirt foretells the imminent opening of an asphalt plant off Stryker’s Road.
And on two sides of the farm sit large condominium developments.
“I grew up in Brooklyn,” Cynthia said, “I know a tenement when I see one.” She described the condos as having no trees, no streets and no parking with balconies facing each other. She acknowledged the condos on Route 57 at least have enough parking.
The warehouses, on the old Ingersoll-Rand property in Lopatcong and Phillipsburg, are not running up to capacity. John Curtis said they do hear back-up signals from trucks and believe the traffic on Route 22 will be extreme, although the traffic on Route 78 on the other side of the warehouses will be worse. When Ingersoll-Rand occupied the site, the area nearest Route 22 was planted in seed corn.
“There was a lot of talk about what was going in,” Cynthia said of the warehouse property. “We were hoping for a Wegman’s”
She also thinks that land used for years in industrial manufacturing would have been a better site for a large solar farm that was constructed on fertile farmland.
“A lot of land is unfarmable,” John said, “only rocks. They should have taken that” for a solar farm.
The Curtises see the mountains of dirt as a sign the asphalt plant is gearing up.
Cynthia said discussions of a plant started about eight years ago and the plant was turned down by Harmony Township and she wishes Lopatcong had taken the same tack.
The front of their property, near Route 22, is zoned highway commercial and the rear is industrial, but agriculture is an overlay in both zones, John said. The farm would be grandfathered in anyway, he added.
The land was originally part of a land grant from the King of England to William Penn, Cynthia said.
“Imagine,” she said, “the king just gave him Pennsylvania and half of New Jersey.”
They have had offers on their farm, but aren’t interested in selling.
The stone farmhouse was constructed in the Colonial era and the Curtises removed plaster and plasterboard from the original kitchen revealing the huge fireplace with a bake oven and a warming oven. That room is now something of a museum of Christmas ornaments and decorations to go along with the farm’s theme.
A barn on the farm features an antique sled “pulled” by a large stuffed reindeer and an area for children to get their pictures taken with Mrs. Santa.
The trees occupy the hill behind the farmhouse.
John Curtis prides himself on the 40 varieties of trees he sells.
For people who like the look of a blue spruce, but not the feel when they trim it, he has Arizona Court Bark Fir with a blue tone but the needles of a fir. He does grow Meyers Blue Spruce which doesn’t get the fungus that Colorado Blue Spruce gets.
For customers who like to start the season early and end it late, he recommends a Frasier/Balsam fir cross that is resistant to known pest and blight and holds its needles well. He explained the Frasier and Balsam differ only in their native regions. Frasers are from North Carolina and Balsams from New England and Canada.
His Korea firs with their recognizeable silver on the undersides of the needles are gaining in popularity, he said.
The farm also has Nordman firs which are popular in Europe. They grow wild in the Republic of Georgia. The branches are strong with spaces between them to enable people to display heavy or large ornaments.
Altogether, the farm has about 30,000 trees and Curtis is still planting. He sells about 1,500 each year.
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