Issue 399 January 21, 2003

New Jersey Maps War Against Sprawl;
Red Zones Appear to Rule Out Controversial Highways

After Governor James McGreevey made his campaign against sprawl development a centerpiece of his state of the state speech Tuesday, New Jersey officials moved quickly to add substance to the effort.

   Late Thursday, they unveiled a map that clearly identifies growth zones, areas where uncontrolled growth is undesirable and an intermediate zone where development should proceed cautiously.  About 2/3 of the state, excluding the already-protected Pinelands, is in the red zone, where the state would like to discourage sprawl. The green growth areas are focused mainly in the NY metro region, in Hudson, Essex, Bergen, lower Passaic, eastern Morris, Union, northern Middlesex and northern Monmouth Counties. The map defines smaller growth areas around Trenton and along the Delaware facing Philadelphia. It also shows local growth areas in key towns inside the primarily red zone. The yellow “caution” zone is primarily a buffer between large red and green areas.

   Though the map is a draft, it would be difficult to make the issue of stopping sprawl more concrete than actually mapping where growth is and is not desirable. The map is a very strong early step by the McGreevey administration. It is the kind of clear blueprint for policy debate and decisions that smart growth discussions elsewhere — Long Island, for instance — so far lack.
   NJ officials said green areas will get priority transportation investment, and building permits there will be expedited. The state says it will not spend resources for new or wider roads in red areas, and added that it would be tougher for developers to get permits and receive permission to link projects to existing roads there. The governor pledged hearings in every county to finalize the map.   

   “We’re going to make sure that not a single dime is spent to subsidize growth there.  It means that the (transportation) projects that contribute to sprawl — lane widenings and new roads — are going to be limited in these areas,” NJ environmental protection commissioner Brad Campbell told the Star-Ledger.  

   The map appears to show that the Turnpike Authority’s proposed Route 92 would run through mainly red zones. NJ DOT’s plan to widen Route 15 in Sussex County is clearly deep in a red zone. However, these projects are both in project pipelines, at different stages of environmental review. Whether these and similar projects in the pipeline move forward or are canceled by the state will be important tests for NJ’s anti-sprawl transportation policy.

   Other measures that may go along with the map and directed infrastructure spending are tougher sewer hookups in red zones and laws to: let towns charge developers for roads and schools that growth requires; allow local governments to consider off-site impacts of projects, permit municipalities to impose 1-year development moratoriums and to give county planning entities more power. 

   It’s unclear how development policy will be addressed in yellow “caution” zones.

   The building industry criticized the whole approach as allowing development “where no one wants to live.” The sprawl lobby is said to be mobilizing heavily to combat McGreevey’s initiative.  Municipalities in sensitive areas said they should get state aid for foregoing development. Editorial boards are generally behind McGreevey. While calling for identification of more rural centers, the Star-Ledger endorsed the overall thrust of the map. The Home News Tribune also backed the red/yellow/green approach.  Several pieces called for bolder action on tax reform, noting the revenue chase that causes municipalities to embrace development in any form. 

   New land in New Jersey is consumed at a rate of 50 acres/day, McGreevey said in Tuesday’s speech.


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