Census Confirms Highlands Growth Pressures
April 30th, 2004 by Tim Evans
- The intensity of growth pressure in the Highlands region of northwestern New Jersey is confirmed by Census figures just released.
- The Highlands counties of Warren, Hunterdon and Sussex claim three of the top five spots among the state’s fastest-growing counties of this decade.
- The top five counties and their population increases, from 2000 to 2003, are Ocean, 6.88 percent; Warren, 6.62 percent; Hunterdon, 5.14 percent; Burlington, 4.96 percent; and Sussex, 4.84 percent.
- A proposed law that would limit development in a “core” area of the Highlands, essential to protecting the state’s water supply, holds the potential to intensify growth pressures outside the core area.
ENHANCEMENTS TO HIGHLANDS BILL NEEDED
Growth pressures in the Highlands are likely to intensify under a proposed Highlands bill that would limit development on nearly 400,000 acres of critical watershed lands. The stakes are particularly high for communities outside the protected core.
Even before these limitations were proposed, many Highlands leaders and citizens understood they needed help managing growth, and spoke publicly about the need for effective regional planning. Their position is buttressed by the experience of mayors from the Meadowlands and Pinelands, who shared their positive experiences with regional planning at a Highlands symposium last winter. Although initially opposed to regional planning as a threat to their home rule powers, these mayors said it actually improved their ability to manage development and shape their future. Indeed, municipalities stand to gain the most environmentally, economically and socially from a regional planning approach.
The Governor’s Office and several Legislators have shown their own understanding of the need. They have called for discussion of ways the proposed Highlands legislation can enhance its protection of critical water supplies in the core by providing stronger guidelines and incentives to help municipalities in the surrounding “planning area” manage growth.
The enhancements most critical to achieving these results are:
- a comprehensive land use plan for land outside, as well as inside, the protected core.
- incentives for municipal conformance with the voluntary regional plan, including technical and state funding assistance
- an effective regional Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program that will ensure the protection of critical natural resource areas and farmland by supporting growth where it does the region the most good.
The lack of such provisions in legislation that restricts development on some lands has the potential to accelerate sprawl, traffic and pollution in the region, negatively impact regionwide water quality, and substantially undercut the ecological value of the core.