Rich Goldman has devoted a lot of time, money, and energy to the D&R Greenway Land Trust over the last 25 years. As a longtime member and former chairman, who joined the group in its earliest days, he has worked to create a preservation “corridor” of more than 20,000 acres in the Hopewell Valley area and beyond that will never be developed.
Goldman, a real estate attorney with the College Road East-based law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, is being recognized for giving the preservation group free legal advice on 200 of its 260 land preservation transactions. His work totals about 2,500 hours, worth about $750,000, he estimates.
Goldman will receive Greenway Land Trust’s Donald B. Jones Conservation Award at the group’s gala on Saturday, September 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, off Rosedale Road. Tickets are $100. For more information, visit www.drgreenway.org.
In the simplest kind of land preservation deal, the D&R Greenway will buy a parcel of land — often a farm — and agree to never build homes or businesses on the property. Those straightforward cases only involve about 5 to 10 hours of legal work. However, complications can quickly arise.
“Rarely are one of those deals done where we have cash in the bank, and an owner who wants to sell the land, and we just buy the land,” Goldman says. “The deals usually involve more than one owner who has unique concerns and considerations.” Often the family selling the land will want to remain there for the rest of their lives.
Raising money is often complex also. “Our more significant deals will usually involve creating a legal partnership amongst quite a large number of potential funders, which might include the D&R Greenway itself, which has raised funds, Green Acres [a state government program], open space funds from the county, and also one or more municipalities in some of our deals that span municipal lines — each town has an open space tax to support land preservation,” Goldman says.
Then comes the task of raising the money from these myriad groups, each of which has different interests. Some of them may want part of the land to be used for sports fields, while others may want nature trails and wildlife habitats. “You have to do the deals so each of the funders is satisfied with the investment they’ve made,” he says.
Sometimes, the D&R Greenway is not the only bidder, so they have to buy out developers or other parties. “Each deal is unique,” Goldman says. “Making it all come together is always challenging.” Challenging for a lawyer can add up to 50 to 100 hours of legal work, Goldman says. For example, on a recent preservation project on Rosedale Road, there were three houses already on the property. The D&R Greenway sold the houses to the Hun School for use as faculty housing. The organization also had to get easements from the township for roads and utilities (more paperwork.)
Often, these land preservation projects are funded by local residents who stand to see their property values rise as a result of the preservation deal. Goldman himself lives in Hopewell Valley, and partly as a result of his work, the place in which he lives retains a bucolic rural character instead of being overrun with housing tracts.
This raises the question of whether land preservation donors are engaged in philanthropy, or just making investments in the value of their properties. Goldman says that’s not the case, and that the community at large, not just a few wealthy donors, often support the projects.
“Those folks who donate because a property is near them are interested in investing in quality of life,” he says. “For example, the St. Michael’s tract is a 400-acre property adjacent to Hopewell Borough. That fundraising effort was a major community effort where hundreds and hundreds of Hopewell Borough residents organized. They had a rock concert, and trick-or-treating to raise funds. It brought the folks out in the community to support that venture because the community valued the preservation of that parcel of land.”
Another counterpoint is that the D&R Greenway has emphasized urban preservation, far from its headquarters and the homes of its board members. The group has funded the restoration of Cadwalader Park in Trenton, and a waterfront park in Bordentown City. “In those cases, you’re not getting funds from neighbors,” he says.
Goldman grew up in Teaneck, where his father owned an industrial painting business and his mother was a housewife. “I’ve always been interested in nature,” Goldman says. “I valued natural lands and habitats and the like. When I came to the Princeton area, I had focused my law practice on real estate, and I realized then that I could use my knowledge and training as a real estate lawyer to help the newly-formed land trust in town. I joined the board around 1990, within the year that it started up.”
Goldman says he liked the group’s vision in the early days of preserving entire stream corridors, rather than individual parcels of land. The group’s name comes from its mission of preserving the streams that fed into the D&R Canal. “There’s something very appealing to me about the notion of a broader view of preservation,” Goldman says.
As a former chairman, Goldman oversaw the preservation of 7,000 acres, including the St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell and the 2,000-acre Seabrook Farms in South Jersey. He established a native plant nursery, which grows about 10,000 plants, and moved the group’s headquarters to the Johnson Education Center in Princeton.
Goldman says the greatest challenge that lies in the future for land preservation is the reduction of state funding from the Green Acres program, which has provided matching funds for the last 60 years. He says because New Jersey has relied on state funding for so long, that the private fundraising efforts of preservation groups lag behind those of others states that did not enjoy such robust support.
“I feel proud of the organization and preserving 20,000 acres of land,” Goldman says. “This is a legacy that I think will support and benefit our communities forever. Imagine New York City if someone hadn’t thought to save Central Park.”