Former Chesterfield Mayor, Township Committeeman and Planning Board member Lawrence Durr is sentenced to four years' probation in connection with the land deal that prosecutors said turned him a hefty profit.

Lawrence Durr (NJ Atty. General's Office)

Durr, 66, pleaded guilty April 19 to a third-degree charge of conspiracy to tamper with public records. He risks 364 days in Burlington County Jail if he fails to meet probation terms, according to the office of acting New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. He agreed to forfeit $250,000 to the state.

Authorities said that Durr admitted lying on township ethics disclosure forms from February 2006 through October 2007, concealing his financial ties to the Renaissance Properties, Inc. development firm.

Durr bought a 104-acre farm adjacent to his own property in 2006 for $2,000,000 and sold the transfer development rights (TDR) to Renaissance for a pre-arranged $2,372,500. The transaction essentially gave him the farm for free, plus a $372,500 profit, investigators said.

TDRs allow landowners to retain title to property and let developers build in municipally-designated "receiving" areas.

Investigators said the Durr tilled the land owned by the Martin Family Partnership for years, and sought it build a home for his daughter, keeping two TDRs for the purpose. The land was allocated 26 TDR credits.

Renaissance needed 260 TDRs to build a mixed-use development in a Chesterfield receiving area, and in 2006 contracted with Durr to buy TDR credits attached to the farm that he didn't yet own, for $65,000 each, authorities said.

Using a $400,000 down payment and financing the balance, Durr closed on the property in July 2006, authorities said.

Concelaing his relationship to Renaissance, Durr convinced the Planning Board, on which he sat, to increase the farm's TDR allocation to 38.5 in May 2006, before he took ownership.

Authorities said that he didn't vote regarding the increase, but also didn't formally recuse himself, and represented himself on the application at the hearing.

In September of that year, Durr urged the Burlington County TDR Bank Board to sell credits directly to Renaissance, a policy which investigators said he previously opposed, claiming that the firm experienced difficulty obtaining them from farmers. Renaissance eventually bought them through an auction arranged by the board.

In his Planning Board capacity, Durr convinced the board in April 2007 to institue a zoning change that reduced Renaissance's required TDR credits by 17 to pursue construction through its Chesterfield LLC subsidiary, investigators said.

In July 2007, as a Township Committee member, Durr convinced the governing body to buy a tract known as the Wilkinson Parcel for $1,500,000, "stepping into the shoes" of Chesterfield LLC, which had contracted to buy it for $2,250,000 and would pay $750,000 toward it, investigators said.

He rationalized that the township could build a school on the parcel to serve families who would live in the new development, authorities said. Renaissance was interested in acquiring the 17 TDR credits for the tract.

Township Committee members, previously adamant about spending no more than $1,000,000, eventually agreed to the higher purchase price. To date, authorities said, no school has been built.

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