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This article was prepared for the July 21, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines
After last week’s Bastille Day cover story, we received one – just one
– phone call from a man in our circulation area (not necessarily a
reader) complaining about the cover photograph of the French flag
(flying just below the American flag at the headquarters of L’Oreal in
The caller assured us that he hadn’t read the article, but he didn’t
need to in order to voice his objection to our feature on the French,
who support and fund terrorism and who helped enable the tragedy of
9/11. Before he went too far we voiced a wish and a prediction. The
wish was that he would write a letter detailing for all of us just how
this insidious French connection plays out. The prediction was that he
never would write such a letter.
What made us think that, he asked. After a few more minutes of polite
argument, and before we got a chance to explain our prediction, the
caller abruptly hung up – he didn’t have time to argue with people
with an attitude like ours, he explained. Our belief is that these
people never put their arguments in writing because they know they are
most effective when they are whispered in dark and conspiratorial
tones. And that’s what makes a phone call like that unsettling.
Meanwhile, perhaps you have heard some whispers about that Highlands
Water Protection and Preservation Act. We sought out the opinions of
a housing developer and a "Smart Growth" advocate. Both, we are happy
to say, were quick to put their arguments in writing:
The passage of the Highlands act must be seen as a step toward
balancing the preservation of open space in New Jersey with the
obligation to ensure that people have someplace safe to live. Because
the new law fails to mandate growth, the job isn’t finished yet.
As New Jersey’s population continues to swell, the creation of new
homes has not kept pace with our expanding population. Today the state
is suffering from an acute housing shortage that nobody wants to talk
about. We either must make room for our new residents or shut off
population growth. The more realistic approach is to plan for growth.
First, the state must ensure that responsible, environmentally
sensitive growth at appropriate densities is encouraged in the
Highlands "planning area." Historically, towns have resisted growth,
in part because they said they could not afford the infrastructure
changes necessary to support new homes. Now, generous incentives and
support are being offered to address those concerns.
Meanwhile, it’s important that we continue to discuss preservation and
growth and apply it to the rest of New Jersey. We must determine what
areas across the state – including in the Pinelands preservation area
– should be preserved and what areas, with appropriate incentives and
support, can accommodate the growth our state is experiencing.
The Highlands bill has passed. We now must ensure that we have a
balance of preservation and appropriate growth. And we must get back
to the larger task of figuring out where New Jerseyans will live.
As our name implies, the Regional Planning Partnership advocates
regional planning. We supported the Highlands Water Protection and
Preservation Act for its potential to bring regional land use and
conservation planning to a region with a number of critical resources
significant to the entire state of New Jersey and beyond. RPP has
offered the Governor the expertise of our staff, board, and
broad-based membership as well as the tools and strategies that we
have developed to help make the regional plan that is developed under
this Act achieve the goals of Smart Growth – a beneficial economy, a
healthy environment, and social justice.
Although we supported the bill, RPP told the Governor before he signed
it that we were concerned that there was no clear direction as to how
appropriate growth centers were to be selected. We also told him we
felt there were no compelling incentives provided by the act for towns
to opt for growth. Without growth centers, the promise of the
Highlands bill, the new Transfer of Development Rights Act, and
ultimately any Smart Growth initiative anywhere, will fail. In this
respect, we agree with the New Jersey Builders Association and Joe
Riggs, a builder with K. Hovnanian who served on the Highlands
RPP supported the Act, however, on the basis that the Council yet to
be appointed and the regional plan yet to be developed could and must
address the conflicting issues of economic and environmental
stakeholders. RPP, working with the Central Jersey Transportation
Forum, has designed a public process to develop such a regional plan,
called the Regional Action Plan process, that targets for growth and
conservation are established and met, and that will ensure a balance
among competing goals: local vs. regional, growth vs. conservation,
housing vs. commercial development, etc.
Even with the right process, we understand the challenge in reaching
such a balance. For this reason, we recommended that the Governor
appoint well qualified staff and members of the Highlands Council and
that he ensure that the Council has adequate resources to be
Because the resources in the Highlands are for people both inside and
outside the region, we also recommended that the structure of the
Council should reflect the same. All Council members should be
gubernatorial appointments. The Highlands as a whole – not particular
counties or municipalities – should make up half the Council, and the
remaining public appointments should represent the state as a whole.
This structure will help ensure that the plan will achieve both
regional and statewide goals.
This does not mean that we propose that the plan will be developed
without local and county government and other stakeholder involvement.
Far from it. The Regional Action Plan process is designed to integrate
local, regional and state interests.
In the end, RPP supported the enactment of the Highlands Water
Protection and Planning Act because we agreed with its primary goal,
to ensure that there is an adequate and clean water supply for more
than half of the people who live in this state. We also agreed with
the compelling case for protecting land in the Highlands as the means
to protect the water.
Sustainable development – the product of Smart Growth – is ultimately
about outcomes, not process: it must produce appropriate economic
growth, improve both economic and racial integration, and protect and
enhance the quality of the environment. It can only achieve these
goals by addressing where the growth will go as aggressively as
addressing where land should be protected. We remain optimistic that
with the appropriate balance and leadership on the Council and with
the appropriate resources and process, the regional plan for both the
Preservation Area and the Planning Area can do both.
non-profit dedicated to enhancing the quality of community life
through sound land use and regional cooperation.
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