The first few months of the Christie administration proved to be trying ones for open space and smart growth advocates. The new administration has not been shy about criticizing past planning efforts, targeting the Highlands Commission, Pinelands Commission and Office of Smart Growth. It also sought to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing, a move blocked by the courts. The Governor then backed a controversial bill to accomplish the same goal.
In the wake of all that, a new study came out suggesting the Garden State is losing the war to preserve open space, with more than 16,000 acres being paved over each year. With more than 30 percent of its land developed, New Jersey is now more developed than any other state.
When lawmakers return this fall from their summer recess, the same issues are likely to emerge. With the state Department of Environmental Protection holding stakeholder meetings on such varied topics as the Highlands, Barnegat Bay and water quality management planning, the administration could provide more substance to its critique of New Jersey’s regulatory and planning system.
The state is still facing a huge budget deficit. The Governor is unwilling to levy new taxes. What will New Jersey do when funding from the most recent open space bond issue is spent? Here are some of the issues likely to frame those discussions: