Open Space Is a Good Investment

The Financial Argument for Open Space Preservation

In New Jersey, open space can be a breathtaking view from a mountaintop in Sussex County, an urban park in Newark, a suburban walking path in Morris County, rolling farmland in Hunterdon County, a wildlife observation center in Gloucester County, a quiet garden in Trenton, or a sea of saltwater marshland in Cumberland County. Whatever form it takes, open space provides sustenance for humanity and all living things.

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The Environmental Resource Inventory: ERI

The Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI), or Index of Natural Resources, is a compilation of text, tables, maps and other visual information about the natural resource characteristics and environmentally significant features of an area. Traditionally called “Natural Resources Inventory,” the title “Environmental Resources Inventory” is now commonly used, reflecting the addition of manmade features to the inventory, such as historic sites, brownfields and contaminated sites.

An ERI provides baseline documentation for measuring and evaluating resource protection issues. It is an objective index and description of features and their functions, rather than an interpretation or recommendation. Identifying significant environmental resources is the first step in their protection and preservation and in assuring that future development or redevelopment protects public health, safety and welfare.

The ERI is an important tool for governing bodies, environmental commissions, open space committees, planning boards and zoning boards of adjustment. The planning board should adopt the ERI as part of the municipal master plan, either as an appendix or as a part of a master plan conservation element. As part of the master plan, the ERI can provide the foundation and documentation for master plan updates, ordinances, legal defense, open space or agricultural protection plans, protection of water resources, and many other municipal functions.

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Green Infrastructure (Land Use)

During stormwater review, green infrastructure techniques are required under the stormwater regulations. Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is an approach to manage stormwater either on-site, or close to a developed site that mimics natural processes by soaking up and storing water.  ANJEC has  a Green Infrastructure tool kit for Municipalities that includes two resource papers:  Long Term Control Plans, Stream Daylighting and Combined Sewer Overflow Programs,  and Green Infrastructure Design and Options.

Additional website resources on GSI can be found below:

Green Buildings (Land Use)

NJ has a robust green building program and resources are available for municipal officials to upgrade municipal properties.  Municipalities should consider adding a green building and sustainability plan to their Master Plan.  The Sustainability Element of the Master Plan seeks to encourage and promote the efficient use of natural resources and the installation and usage of renewable energy systems; consider the impact of buildings on the local, regional and global environment; allow ecosystems to function naturally; conserve and reuse water; treat stormwater on-site; and optimize climatic conditions through site orientation and design.

In 2019, Rutgers Center for Green Building updated  The New Jersey Green Building Manual (NJGBM), a resource tailored for New Jersey providing economic and environmental best practices across the spectrum of green building categories including energy, emissions, water, waste, siting, transportation, and human health. The Manual comprises Commercial and Residential sections with best practices strategies applicable to new and existing buildings.

Site Plan Review (Land Use)

The environmental commission has both the legal authority and the responsibility for taking part in the site plan review process.  The enabling legislation states that an environmental commission has responsibility for “the protection, development or use of natural resources, including water resources, located within its territorial limits”  and if a municipality has an Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI) or Natural Resource Inventory (NRI)  then a copy of every application for development must be submitted to the EC for review.  In addition, the Municipal Land Use Law requires that a member of the environmental commission be a member of the planning board.  More information about Site Plan review can be found here or in the ANJEC Commissioners handbook.

Critical Areas (Land Use)

Critical Areas such as stream corridors and floodplains, wetlands, steep slopes, high acid or erodible soils, mature stands of trees, aquifer recharge and discharge areas, unique natural features and critical wildlife habitats should be indicated and mapped in the Municipal Environmental Resource Inventory.

Affordable Housing (Land Use)

Communities throughout New Jersey must comply with the affordable housing rules, stipulated by the Fair Hosing Act (amended 2008) to provide through its land use regulations a realistic opportunity for a fair share of its region’s present and prospective needs for housing for low and moderate income families.

Environmental commissions can help municipalities comply with its obligations without straining natural resources and be a champion for building sustainable affordable housing see “Sustainable Housing for All” article in ANJEC Winter 2020 Report.   The NJ Housing and Finance Agency (NJHMFA) also champions energy efficiency and green building practices through its Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

Currently the determination of affordable housing obligations are administered by the Court as the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) once the primary jurisdiction for administering housing obligations was divested of its jurisdiction in 2015.

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