To the Editor: Highlands Job Not Finished Yet

RPP Supports Highlands But Growth Areas Needed

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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

Cranbury).

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:

Top Of Page
To the Editor: Highlands Job Not Finished Yet

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.

Joe Riggs

Group president, K. Hovnanian Companies

Top Of Page
RPP Supports Highlands But Growth Areas Needed

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

Coalition.

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

effective.

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.

Dianne Brake

President, Regional Planning Partnership, a non-partisan,

non-profit dedicated to enhancing the quality of community life

through sound land use and regional cooperation.


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