Smart Growth in Transition, Part I: State Planning
November 17th, 2009 by Peter Kasabach
This is the first in a series of special “Future Facts” New Jersey Future will present through the end of the year on key policy issues facing Governor-elect Christopher J. Christie as he prepares to take office in January.
- The neglect suffered by the State Planning Commission and Office of Smart Growth over the past several years is well-documented: The commission continues to function with half its public and local government seats unfilled, and the office has been left with a skeleton staff. Meanwhile, the required update of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan is five years overdue.
- In the absence of effective state planning, agencies at all levels of government continue to make policy decisions that are conflicting rather than complementary, and development continues to take place in inappropriate locations while it stagnates in areas where it is desirable.
- Governor-elect Christie is on record in support of a strengthened state planning process, pledging to improve interagency coordination, discourage suburban sprawl and provide incentives for redevelopment and urban revitalization.
Christie’s Transition Team Faces Decisions on State Planning Structure, Process
As he builds his cabinet, Governor-elect Christie has an opportunity to follow through on his campaign pledge to strengthen state planning. He can create a cabinet-level seat for State Plan leadership, and appoint commissioners to key agencies who not only understand smart-growth issues, but are also directed to work together to achieve the State Plan vision for strong communities and a healthy environment.
In issues briefs posted on his campaign website, and in response to New Jersey Future’s Smart Growth Questionnaire, candidate Christie emphasized the importance of a strengthened state planning process. His platform for “Protecting and Preserving New Jersey’s Environment” includes a plank titled “Revitalizing the State Development and Redevelopment Plan,” which states: “The Christie Administration will drive an improved consistent State Plan that will better coordinate the State’s growth, economic, environmental, energy, housing, and transportation agendas. We will ensure consistency of State regulations and local ordinances. … We need to develop in the right places and just say no in the wrong ones and my Administration will do just that.”
Christie’s response to the Smart Growth Questionnaire amplified this position. “The Office of State Planning needs to be restored to a leadership role so it is able to support the county planning agencies and enhance the efforts of municipal leaders,” he declared. “The cross-acceptance process needs to be restored so that all levels of our government are working together rather than working at odds with each other. The loss of meaningful planning support from the state has resulted in ill-conceived plans at all levels of government. Under my leadership, the Office of State Planning will be an advocate for meaningful planning in all offices across the state.”
Beyond calling for improvement in the state planning process, Christie embraced several of the far-reaching goals of the State Plan itself. Consider the following examples in his responses to the Smart Growth Questionnaire:
- On managing growth statewide: “We have to promote efficient development patterns if we are going to minimize the impact of development in environmentally sensitive areas …”
- On encouraging growth in centers: “It is absolutely critical that we recognize the value of the existing and historic infrastructure that already exists within our urban centers and focus our efforts on restoring these communities.”
- On promoting redevelopment: “As part of my plan to bring back New Jersey’s cities, we will provide incentives for developers to restore existing buildings while at the same time providing immediate incentives for families to move back to our urban centers. We need to focus on improving the existing infrastructure of our cities with the intent of making them an attractive place for people to live.”
- On reining in sprawl and preserving open space: “All of these efforts are possible if we refocus our efforts away from suburban sprawl that continues to erode our open space and farmlands, while costing billions for new roads and transportation systems. We will focus all of the existing incentive programs back to our cities; remove the regulatory constraints that have blocked previous efforts to rebuild while we improve on the old infrastructure and economic base. These efforts will enable us to preserve our rural legacy while restoring our economy and putting our residents back to work.”
Structurally, the state planning process can be updated using existing resources to give the State Planning Commission and the Office of Smart Growth (encouragingly referred to by the governor-elect as the Office of State Planning, its former name) the authority necessary to operate effectively. One approach was outlined at New Jersey Future’s October 16, 2009 symposium on state planning. Functionally, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan demands more than lip service; commitment to its goals must be backed up by leadership that inspires and expects measurable progress toward their achievement. Governor-elect Christie’s challenge will be to turn his conceptual support for a robust state planning process into a meaningful accomplishment of his administration.
NEXT in our series: Transportation