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Happy Birthday, New Jersey State Plan!

March 7th, 2016 by

State PlanThe most recent update to the New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan turned 15 years old this week.

That’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is, it’s 12 years older than it should be. The State Planning Act specifies that the plan be updated at least once every three years, and the most recent update was adopted in 2001. When Gov. Christie came into office he made a good-faith effort to update the plan: His administration issued a draft of what it called the State Strategic Plan, a framework that replaced a prescriptive map with evaluative criteria to determine where state investments in growth or preservation should take place. Public meetings were conducted around the state, and hundreds of written comments were submitted. A final version, incorporating all that feedback, was almost ready for adoption by the State Planning Commission when Hurricane Sandy arrived, after which the administration shifted its priorities. So we’re still working with the 2001 update.

But here’s the good news: The State Plan has been working. Without much fanfare, hundreds of pieces of legislation and regulation have used the plan as a reference point in helping the state determine where to direct various kinds of investments. And even though the State Strategic Plan was never adopted, Somerset County used it as a model to develop its own Strategic Investment Framework, a document that continues today to guide county investments in development, redevelopment and preservation.

New Jersey, as the most developed state in the nation, needed a guiding framework in order to ensure that the Garden State continued to grow wisely and didn’t over-consume its dwindling supply of usable land. The State Planning Act, and the resulting State Plan, are a recognition of that need. And the need is just as important today, but for different reasons. For the time being, market demand is shifting away from sprawl subdivisions and corporate campuses — both positive trends — but our regulatory framework and our infrastructure and investment priorities have not shifted to support these trends, which would save taxpayers money. We now know much more about how land-use decisions can make our communities more resilient, but we have not incorporated these lessons into our governmental cross-departmental practices. And we continue to see deepening economic and racial segregation in our state, driven by land-use and taxing policies.

The State Plan set an aspirational bar for comprehensive planning and cross-departmental cooperation, a sensible approach to governance, economic development, environmental preservation and societal progress. However, a plan is only as good as the wisdom and diligence of the people who use and update it. So, Happy Birthday, State Plan! May those entrusted with your safekeeping not only bask in the glow of this anniversary, but have the diligence to use and update you wisely.

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