BY JEFF TITTEL
On Wednesday the Christie administration came out with a “Strategic Plan” that will supersede the State Plan and trump rules like the DEP Water Quality Management rules. The purpose of the Strategic Plan is to promote growth in parts of New Jersey even if those lands maybe environmentally sensitive areas. This plan was written behind closed doors mostly with developers and the business community with the intention of promoting sprawl and over development forcing government agencies to weaken protections of the environment.
The plan is the opposite of smart growth it is dumb growth. This plan is going to be used justify sprawl and overdevelopment to pave over New Jersey by weakening environmental protections and planning. By encouraging growth in the wrong areas it is going to undermine redevelopment of our existing cities and towns.
This plan is a series of policies and goals without any map. There is no transparency since we do not know where the growth areas are written in a vague manner meaning almost anywhere in New Jersey can be interrupted as growth area. This administration has already been eliminating Smart Growth programs and rules. The BPU proposed eliminating the smart growth rules for infrastructure now allowing rate payers to subsidize running water, sewer, electric, and gas lines into environmentally sensitive areas.
Instead of subsidizing green buildings in urban areas where it is needed we now can subsidize buildings on green fields, but they cannot be a real green building if destroys open space. They have eliminated the Transit Village Program and cut back the Smart Fit Program that encourages transit improvement in the right places. The Environmental Infrastructure Trust program is running water and sewer lines promoting growth in environmentally sensitive areas. They cannot say that this rule is about smart growth when they are promoting development diminishing the open space that we have left.
While the administration is talking about planning and Smart Growth the administration has systematical been dismantling Smart Growth in the various different agencies like BPU, DOT, or DEP. They are saying one thing and doing the opposite. This plan is to subsidize sprawl and over development in environmentally sensitive and rural areas. This is going to be done at the expense of channeling growth to more appropriate areas where there is already existing infrastructure.
They should not be limiting money to existing communities and urban areas that need money to help grow. The administration says they are going to encourage regional planning, but the governor‘s record shows the opposite. He is attacking the Highlands and wants to weaken or get rid of it as well as weakening protections in Pinelands.
Under this proposed plan local towns will have the final approval, which means there will be no regional planning. This is an excuse to promote sprawl and overdevelopment in farm fields and other environmentally sensitive areas.
Instead of encouraging regional planning they are doing the opposite by undermining region planning in the state especially in the Highlands and Pinelands. What is very troubling from an environmental stand point is that not only is the State Plan being pushed aside, but protection for coastal areas, wetlands, flood hazards, and stream protections are all being threatened. This Strategic Plan ties with the Waiver Rule giving the DEP the power to help push through development for example the expansion of Xanadu being built on wetlands can waive the wetlands protections since the Strategic Plan calls it a growth area. When you look at the other governor‘s policies like executive orders saying no rules should be stricter than federal rules is a hold up or weakening of many environmentally rules. Then recent law S6 gives the lieutenant governor power to streamline regulations weakening standards and protections. Now dealing with conflicts between agencies, which is forcing development into environmentally sensitive areas.
Given the Waiver Rule, S6, governor‘s executive orders when you look at the big picture what we see is that this so called Strategic Plan will give the administration the power to roll back 30 years of environmental protection and planning protection for open spaces,.
The purpose of giving all land use power to the lieutenant governor and now with releasing of the Strategic State Plan is to turn the Secretary of State into the Land Use Czar to push out permits for politically connected developers. This is the office whose prime mission has been to weaken environmental regulations and standards and they will now try to do the same for land use regulations. Instead of environmental protection, natural resource conservation, and infrastructure assessments determining planning, it will now be special interests. Instead of using sound science and analysis to determine planning, there will be no planning just pushing out permits for developers. We are concerned this office will be mandating to municipalities the type of zoning they have and increasing densities.
Concentrating this much governmental power into this so called Strategic Plan and the lieutenant governor undermines good planning and the right of citizens to have an input into governmental decisions.
Concentrating economic growth, planning, and red tape reviews all in one person will lead to a calamity that will end up paving over New Jersey.
This plan eliminates the independent State Planning Commission gets input from citizens to make planning decisions that impact land use. The Strategic State Plan document purpose is to override the State Plan, DEP rules and regulations and impacting local development. We are concerned that this Strategic Plan is not really strategic but is a weapon to use against environmental regulations and the right of communities to determine the vision for their own towns. We are concerned that areas marked as growth areas will get water, sewers, and roads even if they are environmentally sensitive and there is no capacity to support the development. We believe that this will not only undermine good planning but economic revitalization of cities and force development into environmentally sensitive areas like the Highlands and the around the Barnegat Bay.
This plan allows urban areas to decline while the resources of the state go to the suburbs and rural areas. This proposal puts a target on the open spaces of New Jersey.
Instead of having an Office of Smart Growth everything is put in the Secretary of State’s Office under the Business Action Center that also includes Red Tape Review. We are concerned this will not be about planning, but about politics. The politics will be used to push through developers and special interests weaken environmental protection.
Instead of science, analysis and public input planning New Jersey, it will be special interests behind closed doors determining the future of the state‘s land use policies, This will put a target on the open spaces of New Jersey and lead to not only more sprawl but the decline of our cities and urban areas.
The lieutenant governor with the Red Tape Review has already gone after environmental rules like stormwater, Water Quality Management Plans, and beach access on behalf of industry and now will be able to do the same for land use issues. Even if a growth area is outside sewer service and is environmentally sensitive they can force the development. If a community is mostly all one family homes and townshouses, under this plan they could force in mid-rise housing and office towers. Even in stable communities they could attack the local zoning and force intense development.
The State Strategic Plan will supersede all other state agency plans, especially DEP and DOT. For example, the strategic plan will trump CAFRA a coastal plan running a sewer line through environmentally sensitive area for a politically connected developer the. Another purpose of this plan will be to put the state financial resources behind growth. This takes all the functional plans of government and replaces it with a plan that puts government funding where the lieutenant governor thinks that money should go. State funding could be diverted from environmentally beneficial projects such as retrofitting stormwater basins in the Barnegat Bay watershed and used to expand sewer service in the Highlands.
This is a plan by special interests for special interests that undermines good planning and attacks environmental protections.
The previous State Plan used science to analyze the state‘ resources and infrastructure to determine what areas are best for future growth and what areas are too sensitive. The previous plan underwent a cross acceptance process where citizens, towns, and state agencies accepted the plan. Now we have a top down process behind close doors dictated by special interests.
Instead of having good planning in New Jersey it will be about pay to play and taking care of politically connected developers. This will mean more EnCaps, more Xanadus, more traffic, more pollution, and higher property taxes.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.
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