Highlands Council Regional Master Plan (RMP)
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 www.highlands.state.nj.us/). 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
- Calls for legislative action to reauthorize the Garden State Preservation Trust;
- Earmarks $10 million from the statewide TDR Bank to start the Highlands TDR Bank;
- Calls for legislative action to the extend TDR receiving zone eligibility to the whole state;
- Proposes to extend the special Preservation Area appraisal opportunity; and
- Directs the NJDEP to restrict permits for depletive water uses in water
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:
- Natural Resources
- Water Resources and Water Utilities
- Agricultural resources
- Historic, Cultural Archaeological and Scenic Resources
- Future Land Use
- This section contains several key concepts. Understanding these
provisions is essential. The RMP creates six "capability zones
and sub-zones" to implement its policies, goals and objectives.
Spatially, these "zones" are shown on the Land use Capability
Map. These should not be confused with the Preservation Area and the
Planning Area. These "zones" extend across the Preservation
Area boundary and are said to be "blind to the line." This
is because the Planning Area contains substantial areas of critical
environmental terrain while the Preservation Area contains areas that
are substantially developed and some that are primarily agricultural.
Policies and programs established in the RMP differ for the various
zones. These are not traditional zoning districts but rather are used
to apply the various goals, policies and objectives of the RMP
- Major Zones
- Protection Zone
The Protection Zone has been applied to those lands that "contain the highest quality resource value." They are deemed to be essential for the protection of water quality and quantity, and preserving ecological functions.
- Conservation Zone
This zone contains lands "of significant agricultural importance" and natural areas associated with the agricultural land. Future development is limited in location and intensity due to agricultural preservation objectives and infrastructure constraints.
- Existing Community Zone
This zone is primarily developed and is deemed to be potentially more suitable for development than the Protection Zone or the Conservation Zone. Because of their development history, they have fewer natural resource constraints and often contain existing infrastructure. Policies for these areas allow development and redevelopment under specific conditions.
Lake Management Zone, Environmentally Constrained Conservation and
Existing Community Zones
The Lake Management sub-zone contains policies and programs designed to protect the visual and ecological resource of lakes over 10 acres in size while the Environmentally Constrained Sub-zones limit potential development in areas of steep slope and stream corridors that are present in the Conservation and Existing Community Zones.
- Protection Zone
- Major Zones
- This section contains several key concepts. Understanding these provisions is essential. The RMP creates six "capability zones and sub-zones" to implement its policies, goals and objectives. Spatially, these "zones" are shown on the Land use Capability Map. These should not be confused with the Preservation Area and the Planning Area. These "zones" extend across the Preservation Area boundary and are said to be "blind to the line." This is because the Planning Area contains substantial areas of critical environmental terrain while the Preservation Area contains areas that are substantially developed and some that are primarily agricultural. Policies and programs established in the RMP differ for the various zones. These are not traditional zoning districts but rather are used to apply the various goals, policies and objectives of the RMP
- Landowner Equity
- Sustainable Economic Development
- Air Quality
- Local Participation
6. Implementation. An implementation framework describing the necessary roles of the entities that will guide the successful implementation of the Regional Master Plan. (p.365-424) Note: Primarily, the process of municipal and county conformance will implement the Regional Master Plan. This process seeks to align the planning and zoning requirements of each political jurisdiction with the goals and objectives of the Regional Master Plan.
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.