Bedminster’s Kirby Farm sold at auction

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BEDMINSTER - The Kirby Farm on Country Club Lane, the proposed site of a 49,000-panel solar array for Sanofi, was sold at auction in September to a private couple who wish to remain anonymous.

According to Max Spann Jr., whose company, Max Spann Real Estate and Auctions, handled the sale, this is the largest sale of open land or farm land in Bedminster since the recent recession.

Spann said the auction attracted 16 bidders.

"I am happy to see there still is so much interest in open space or farm land, in spite of the demographic shift to urban areas," Spann said.

The bidding started at $1.25 million but quickly rose to $3 million and closed at just under $3.2 million.

"It was over in about five to 10 minutes," Spann said.

Solar array never materialized

In 2012, KDC, a solar company based in Bedminster, applied for a permit to create a solar array on more than 40 acres of the farm.

The power was intended solely for Sanofi  on the other side of Interstate 287 in Bridgewater, and was supposed to be sufficient to be Sanofi's sole means of power for 20 years. The original application called for about 49,000 panels. That proposal was later scaled back to almost 34,000 panels.

However, consistent, organized opposition from neighbors for three years finally led to KDC withdraw its application in February 2016

Who are the Kirbys?

The farm was owned by the Kirby family of Chatham and New Vernon. Fred Murray Kirby II, who bought the land in 1977, is well known in Morris County and elsewhere as a philanthropist and the chairman of the Kirby Foundation that was started by his grandfather.

Two arts centers bear his name, in Lawrenceville and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as well as numerous other centers, such as the F.W. Kirby Children's Center of the YMCA in Madison and the Summit Speech School/F.M. Kirby Center in New Providence. There is also the F.M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging in Baltimore, Maryland.

Kirby also was a very successful businessman and chairman of the Allegheny Corp. He said he bought the land as a long-term investment when the land was zoned for 3-acre lots. When Bedminster changed the zoning to 10-acre lots, Kirby sued and lost.

Kirby died in February 2011, but his children and widow continue to run the Kirby Foundation. At the time of its sale, Spann said the Kirby family just wanted to sell the farm, without outlining how it should be used.

Farm's future unclear

The sale has not yet closed, but Spann said he believes the new owners will keep the farm as a farm and family estate.

Beth Davisson, project manager at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for the Black River Greenway, attended the auction and was able to share information about preserving the land as open space with the auction winners and the first runners up.

"I was not rebuffed, though I haven't heard from them since," Davisson said. "They were friendly and took the information."

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