HILLSDALE, N.J. – In the fall, folks flock to Demarest Farms and Orchards to pick apples, pumpkins and peaches – and the Borough of Hillsdale has filed a complaint, asserting that inadequate parking for these customers is creating danger for both customers and drivers.
The borough filed a complaint with the Bergen County Agricultural Development Board in early February, and it will be heard at the board's regular meeting, on Thursday, March 9.
The complaint alleges that Demarest Farms has "aggressively advertised" its fall picking season, and its fall operations have dramatically increased – but the farm hasn't increased its parking capacity to meet that demand.
"This has caused patrons to park their cars on the surrounding residential streets, starting in the morning and not subsiding until late in the afternoon," the complaint continues, and the farm "has actively directed patrons to do so."
The increased traffic volume and congestion led, in the eyes of our local police department and governing Council, to unsafe driving and walking conditions for our local residents, patrons and visitors. Trespassing on neighbors properties noticeably increased, and the increased volume of moving and parked traffic also posed challenged for emergency access vehicles.
The borough also said that the farm didn't take steps to provide adequate off-site parking, either, until the borough declared a temporary emergency and strictly limited parking on residential streets.
The complaint asserts that this failure to provide adequate parking means the business isn't in compliance with "basic agricultural management practices applicable to retail farm operations."
Demarest Farms co-owner Jason DeGise told Daily Voice, "We're a good neighbor, and we want to continue to be a good neighbor. The farm's been here since 1886."
He explained that the issue of a fall customer surge isn't unique to his farm but is typical for "farms on the urban fringe, like us: we rely on outside parking."
Families come to visit farms from the second week in September to the last week in October, often continuing traditions from their own childhoods.
"It's generational memories," DeGise added.
"We've taken many steps to make sure that the parking is secure and safe," he said, including hiring police officers and parkers on the streets, to help customers make their way to the farm.
They also worked out a mediation plan with the neighbors, formulating a plan to deal with the seasonal parking.
"Like any plan, it's not perfect and needs to be fluid," he said. "Our goal is to continue with this plan and to evolve it as necessary.
"We've always worked with the borough in the past, to try and resolve any issues that might have arisen, in regard to parking, and we hope that, as we go through this hearing process, we continue to have a relationship that's good for all involved."
The meeting will convene at 10 a.m. in the Freeholders Public Meeting Room, on the fifth floor of the Bergen County Administration Building, 1 Bergen County Plaza, in Hackensack.
Parking will be available in the county garage, adjacent to the administration building.