Putting a Chill on Sprawl in New Jersey

Have regional planning efforts in Morris County, New Jersey played a
key role in stopping sprawl? And can they provide a model for
communities around the country?

Those are the questions being asked today by Streetsblog Network member Hugh Bartling, who cites an article in the Morris County New Jersey Daily Record about the cessation of large-scale residential subdivisions in that part of the state:

2657160732_ca6e5c6390.jpgSpeedwell Lake in Morris County, NJ, where protections for open space and water quality have helped stall sprawl. Photo by iceage366 via Flickr.

While
the economic downturn, depressed housing prices, and the credit crunch
may also have had something to do with halting development, the article
emphasizes the power of a 2004 state legislative initiative — The Highlands Act — as being the primary reason.

The
Act was established to protect open space and water quality in northern
New Jersey.  My understanding is that the seven counties and over 80
municipalities that are located in the Highlands area have to insure
that their plans are in compliance with the regional Highlands Plan. 
Additionally, the Plan is governed by a regional council that has veto
power over large development decisions.

This type of
regional decision making power is essential to minimize the negative
consequences that accompany the typical fragmented land use decisions
seen elsewhere in North America.  If it seems like the Highlands Plan
is really influencing the trajectory of development in northwestern New
Jersey, it might be a useful model for other states to follow in order
to bring some coherence to metropolitan development.

Other news from around the network: Trains for America reports that Memphis wants in on the high-speed rail action; Baltimore Spokes
has a post on an 11 percent increase in the number of Americans riding
bikes for transportation and recreation in 2008 compared to the
previous year; and Bike Blog NYC has the video of a guy who commutes 40 miles to work each way — by bicycle.

  • Deborah Post

    The Highlands Act of New Jersey is an egregious regulatory taking that eviscerated $6 billion of property values, largely the equity of local small farmers. Many of those harmed are the elderly, people who still farmed their grandfather’s farmland and who cared more about their farm than the siren’s call of the developers wad of cash. Their private 401-K, equity stored in their land, has been taken from them by a government action. The Highlands Act was unfunded and no compensation has been paid for the property value losses. Although the Act included a TDR program, in theory, it is now five years from the Act’s passage, not one TDR has been issued, bot or sold, and the initial offering price has been set at 17.5 cents on the appraised dollar by a group of environmental extremists who sit on the politically appointed Highlands Council, a de facto dictatorship. No matter how laudable the goal – environmental or other, – unjust, unfair and unconstitutional means are never justified. Without property protection, our American capitalist system will ultimately fail. Just look at the ex-Soviet states. And the real crime is that those harmed are precisely those who have been good stewards of the scarce remaining NJ open space. No good deed goes unpunished.

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