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NJ’s Strategic Growth Plan: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Tom Johnson | May 1, 2012

State Planning Commission, moving cautiously, plans another public hearing on blueprint; delay seen as ‘small victory’ by environmentalists.

It seems the Christie administration’s strategic investment plan is not yet ready for the prime time.

Gerald Scharfenberger, director of the New Jersey Office of Planning Advocacy, told the State Planning Commission yesterday the administration plans to hold a seventh public hearing on the plan, its blueprint for spurring economic growth in the Garden State.

The move will delay the adoption of the plan, met with reservations by some environmentalists, until this summer, a move they welcomed as another opportunity to stop its implementation.

“We see any delay as a small victory,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Under the current plan, it promotes growth in all parts of the state, including the Highlands and Pinelands.”

But Scharfenberger said the administration remains committed to the plan, an overhaul of the decade-old original State Plan and Redevelopment Plan.

“They’re very supportive,” he said, referring to the Governor’s office, which is reviewing revisions to the plan made by his office. “To their credit, they wanted to take the time and get it right.”

The office had originally said the revisions to the plan would be made public two weeks ago, but then it said the plan would come out the following week. Now, the release of the revisions to the plan, expected to be available by the commission by now, is uncertain.

“We will have a bit better handle on the timing by the end of the week,” said Scharfenberger, who added he was not certain when the public would get its first look at the revisions in the strategic investment plan.

So far, advocates of the plan are somewhat concerned, but say they hear the administration just wants to proceed cautiously.

“It’s a matter of working it through the system,” said Chris Sturm, a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Future, a smart-growth organization that supports most aspects of the new plan.

“We’re disappointed and concerned, but everything we’re hearing is that it is still happening,” Sturm said.

The plan, unveiled last October, replaces a State Plan and Redevelopment Plan put in place a decade ago, which even its advocates acknowledged failed to achieve its objectives.

The 41-page plan, now said to encompass 61 pages according to those who are familiar with it, emphasizes economic growth instead of environmental preservation by establishing geographic industry where the state will direct investments and resources to bolster high-growth sectors, such as finance, healthcare and the ports.

One of the chief points of contention about the plan is an executive order issued by the governor, which set up a special steering committee, chaired by the lieutenant governor, that will provide direction to state agencies for implementing the plan.

Among other things, the order said the steering committee would serve as a venue to resolving conflicts between state departments that prevent the strategic plan from being implemented. Some environmentalists fear the provision will serve as an opportunity to trump environmental protections in favor of economic growth, similar to a waive rule recently adopted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Those concerns were heightened when the Department of State proposed a new rule to allow waivers. The Sierra Club claimed the rule would streamline and accelerate permitting for businesses that could impact the environment and cut the public out of the permitting process.

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