Measure Would Mandate Smart-Growth Policies in Town Master Plans

Tom Johnson | October 16, 2014 | Energy & Environment, Planning
Critics argue municipalities are already addressing these issues voluntarily, obviating the need for new law

Credit: NJTV
State Sen. and former Gov. Richard J. Codey (D-Essex and Morris)
Should New Jersey towns be required to incorporate smart-growth policies and storm resiliency projects into their municipal master plans?

According to a bill (S-2424) moving through the Legislature, the answer is “yes” — especially given the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather on the state’s energy and environmental infrastructure.

The bill was discussed last week in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. Its backers claim the issue is of special importance to New Jersey, since the state is among the most ecologically diverse and densely populated in the country.

With local master plans intimately involved with land-use issues, municipal boards are uniquely situated to consider and adopt a local strategy designed to address these concerns in a practical and effective manner, according to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex and Morris).

But others argued towns are already dealing with those factors on a voluntary basis in their master plans and do not need a mandate to do so in the future.

“We are concerned with adding an additional requirement, which will drive up costs,’’ said Michael Cerra, director of government affairs for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which represents local governments in Trenton. “We are doing this already.’’

Cerra questioned what tools and resources would be made available to municipalities to help them comply with the mandates.

Jeff Kolakowski, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Builders Association, agreed, saying the state should leave a it to municipalities to decide whether to incorporate these considerations into their master plans.

Those views did not resonate with lawmakers. Codey argued he has yet to receive a single call from a mayor complaining about the bill. In the past, if a bill proved objectionable to local officials, he said his office would be flooded by calls.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee, added, “I don’t see this as any bad thing.’’

In the aftermath of Sandy, more than 400 water systems and more than 90 wastewater treatment plants were damaged, leading to boil-water advisories for many customers and the dumping of untreated sewage into the state’s waterways. Many of those systems were flooded by unexpected storm surges.

“It’s an important step forward to bring New Jersey up to date when it comes to planning,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the state Sierra Club chapter. He argued towns need to adopt high-hazard plans for flood-prone properties to be eligible for money from the federal government to address those problems.