The New Jersey Legislature has delegated most of the responsibility for land use to municipalities. However, decisions made by state agencies, county governments and even neighboring municipalities also play an important role in the actual development patterns. Ultimately it is the municipal master plan that creates the foundation for the local zoning and land ordinances that govern development. A master plan that clearly states environmental and development goals provides a solid base for the ordinances so vital to protect a community’s public health, safety and general welfare. Click here for more information about elements of a Master Plan.
As of February 2021, the NJ Municipal Land Use Lase requires a climate change-related hazard vulnerability assessment as a part of any future master plan update. You can find a Climate Change resiliency plan guide here or go to Resilient NJ for more information.
There are different approaches to meet present and future environmental, social and economic needs. Elements of a sustainable community include leadership, civic engagement and responsibility, ecological integrity, economic security, and social well-being. For more information and resources on Sustainable Communities download the informational sheet here.
Maintaining an inventory and coordinating stewardship of municipal conservation easements is a vital task for environmental commissions.
For more information and resources on Conservation Easements download the following documents:
New Jersey law requires environmental commissions to maintain an index of public and private open space in the municipality. This can be in the ERI (Environmental Resource Inventory), or as a separate database.
The State of New Jersey has given the primary responsibility for how its land will be used to its 566 municipalities. The Municipal Land Use Law (NJSA 40:55D-1 et seq.) sets up a three-step planning process for land use decisions: development and adoption of a master plan, adoption of land use and zoning ordinances, and site plan and subdivision review.
The New Jersey Field Office of the Trust for Public Land (TPL) published the first edition of the Handbook for Public Financing of Open Space in New Jersey in 1994, at a time when reduced and inconsistent federal and state open space funding was sparking an increased demand for local governments to step up their open space preservation efforts. TPL created the Handbook to provide local officials and leaders of nonprofit environmental and land trust organizations with an overview of basic techniques for financing open space preservation at the county and municipal levels. At that time, only a few counties and municipalities had established local open space taxes and trust funds pursuant to the New Jersey enabling legislation enacted in 1989.
The Association of NJ Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) updated the publication and reprinted it as this edition. We hope that this Handbook will continue to generate the interest of local government agencies and nonprofit open space organizations in expanding their programs to preserve additional open space. In every part of the state the need is clear and urgent, and the opportunities are present but rapidly disappearing to preserve permanently open lands that the public relies on for recreation and for quality-of life, environmental and natural resource functions.
Pathways for the Garden State is a practical handbook about how to plan bikeways and walkways. It’s intended not only for environmental commissions but also for other local groups, including park and recreation departments, planning boards and citizen associations.
The planning process often begins with drawing lines on a map, planning routes over existing streets and sidewalks to connect community focal points. Sometimes this means designing new walking paths or bicycle routes. Frequently it means retrofitting existing paths, sidewalks and roadways to make them safer and more attractive for walkers and bikers.
Greenways—linear corridors of preserved undeveloped land, and the trails they encompass— can be prime locations for recreational walking or biking in a community. In 1989, ANJEC published Keeping Our Garden State Green: A Local Government Guide for Greenway and Open Space Planning. As a reference and guide for making communities more “walkable” and “bikeable,” Pathways is an adaptive reuse of techniques and resources found in that earlier publication.
Many New Jersey communities have been able to plan and begin implementing new greenways, often using funds from special local municipal open space tax levies. Municipalities have created some of these greenways to protect sensitive environmental areas, but in most cases, these linear parks can incorporate opportunities for active recreation.
To ease traffic congestion, combat air pollution and improve public health, New Jersey needs more people to walk and ride bicycles more regularly. People can walk and bike not only on recreational greenways but also on roads and streets that will take them to work, school, the library, the market, the post office, or town hall. To accomplish this, we need to find ways to make our communities friendlier to walkers and bikers and to improve safety. We can start by renovating or modifying the existing infrastructure, such as altering roadways to slow and even diminish the volume of traffic, and to accommodate bicycle lanes. We can begin with simple steps: providing bike racks, benches, better lighting and signage and pedestrian-oriented plazas.
As pioneers and veterans of the greenway movement, environmental commissions are well positioned to take the initiative to restore safe streets and create walk/bike opportunities in their communities.