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Drawing of water & shore

Highlands Council Regional Master Plan (RMP)

Final Adoption and Executive Order 114

On July 17, 2008, the Highlands Council voted 9-5 to adopt the Regional Master Plan. Numerous members of the public including ANJEC offered testimony asking for the Plan to provide stronger and more effective environmental safeguards. However, after several hours of debate, the Council changed very little in the Plan, adopting it virtually intact.

The environmental community, organized through the NJ Highlands Coalition and including ANJEC, asked Governor Corzine to veto the minutes of the Council's July 17 meeting to invalidate the adoption of the Plan. However, on September 5, 2008, the Governor officially signed the minutes of the Council meeting. Importantly, at that time he also issued an Executive Order (E.O. #114) (link to These actions completed the final adoption of the Highlands Regional Master Plan.

E.O. #114 addresses many of the environmental community's concerns and specifies how other state agencies such as the NJDEP, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and, importantly, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) are to interact with the RMP. Among other issues, the Executive Order

The Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP)

The Regional Master Plan introduces four new dimensions to planning in the Highlands region. Some concepts will be new to municipalities but generally, they are part of current, established planning practice.

A Regional Focus: The entire NJ Highlands region is addressed in the context of the greater (geophysical) Highlands Region that includes parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. Data have been collected, developed and analyzed for the entire region. Many of these data have not been available before and the analyses performed reflect the regional orientation of the Plan. Because of this regional focus, users should be careful in applying these data to small land areas where inaccuracies become visible.

Carrying Capacity Planning: The Plan uses a carrying capacity approach, particularly in regard to water resources. This approach requires a detailed assessment of the natural and man made (infrastructure) systems that support growth and development. The Highlands Council has prepared the most comprehensive environmental and infrastructure analysis of the Highlands Region ever undertaken. These analyses and the accompanying data are available to all Highlands municipalities and are of great utility for local planning and management.

"Smart Growth" Principles: The Plan advocates the emerging ideas of what is termed "Smart Growth". The principles tend to discourage sprawl, favor mixed use zoning, compact development, walkable communities, the use of existing infrastructure, re-development, open space and farmland preservation, and multiple transportation choices. Importantly, smart growth principles are usually cost-effective and may result in more sustainable outcomes.

Sustainability: The Plan advocates a sustainable approach to planning that will insure the continued environmental, economic and social viability of the communities in the region.

Region-wide, Preservation and Planning Area Goals: The RMP provides goals for the region as a whole and for the Preservation and Planning Areas. The overall goals for the entire region are to "Protect, restore and enhance the quality and quantity of surface and ground water, preserve farmland and historic sites and other historic resources, preserve outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting and fishing on publicly owned land , promote conservation of water resources and promote brownfield remediation and redevelopment.

There are important differences between the goals for the Preservation and Planning Areas. For example, in the Preservation Area the goal is to "preserve extensive….contiguous areas of land in a natural state." In the Planning Area the goal is to "preserve….any environmentally sensitive lands and other lands needed for recreation and conservation purposes."

In the Preservation Area, the goal for agriculture is to "promote compatible agricultural, horticultural, recreational and cultural uses and opportunities within the framework of protecting the Highlands environment." However in the Planning Area, the goal is more aggressive: "Promote the continuation and expansion of agricultural, horticultural, recreational and cultural uses and opportunities." These goals are discussed in the RMP on p.36-39 and are listed for comparison in Table 2.1 on p. 37 of the RMP.

Contents of the RMP

The Regional Master Plan is a large document consisting of six chapters of text, maps and charts. The chapters include:

1. Introduction. An introduction to the Highlands Region providing a history of the origins of both the Region and the Highlands Act (p.1-24)

2. Regional and Local Community Character. An analysis of the character of the Highlands Region at a regional and local community scale and a framework envisioning the future of the Highlands. (p.25-52)

3. Analysis of the Highlands Region. An analysis of the Highlands Region, including an assessment of the Region's resources and existing communities. (p.53-136)

4. Goals, Policies, and Objectives. A statement of policy guidance setting forth the goals, policies, and objectives necessary to implement the Highlands Act. (p.137-212) Note: The RMP sets out a lengthy series of goals, policies and objectives. These provide the "substantive standards and direction for implementing the goals and requirements of the Highlands Act" (RMP. 137). They are also used in Chapters 5 and 6 as the basis for implementation. "Goals" are broad statements of intent. "Policies" provide more detailed statements of direction. "Objectives" "provide the specific, substantive requirements that will be used to measure implementation progress and plan conformance" (RMP, p.137).

5. Programs. A series of programs designed to ensure that the goals, policies, and objectives for the Highlands Region are met. (p.213-364) Note: the major policy areas covered in the RMP are organized according to the following elements:

Additionally, 15 "Technical Reports" on key subject areas accompany the RMP. These reports contain vital environmental information not generally available to municipalities in the past.


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