Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


Somerset County Preservation Plan

Project Name: Somerset County Preservation Plan

First of its kind plan that combines open space, farmland, and historic preservation plans to provide funding and partnerships, and balance reuse opportunities with economic development to attract business and tourism to the county.

Primary Partner Team: Barton Ross & Partners LLC | County of Somerset | Heritage Strategies | Land Stewardship Solutions, LLC | New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Somerset County may be the “greenest” county in the Garden State. Long admired for its rural farmlands, the county has fought to balance the pressures of development and preservation. While some towns or counties treat their planning process as a formality, Somerset County seized the opportunity to adopt a holistic and engaging approach. In doing so, Somerset County has developed the first of its kind plan in New Jersey that combines open space, farmland, and historic preservation plans to provide funding and partnerships, and balance reuse opportunities with economic development to attract business and tourism. 

Acknowledging a host of 21st century issues facing Somerset County, leaders knew the importance of properly balancing preservation and development in planning for its future. Specifically, the Somerset County Preservation Plan (SCPP) updates the Somerset County Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan from 2000 and the Comprehensive Farmland Preservation Plan from 2008. It also develops a new County Historic Preservation Plan, linking the three preservation programs, and incorporating climate change mitigation, economic development, and tourism strategies. 

Somerset County has a rich American Revolutionary tradition, and is already preparing for the 250th anniversary of the nation in 2026. The Historic Preservation Plan has four goals that include: identify, protect, and promote Somerset County’s unique historic resources; promote coordination and consensus in the preservation of historic resources; pursue additional measures and incentive programs; and, position the County and prepare its historic sites to be part of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution and increased attention. Tourism is vital to Somerset County’s economy and was severely impacted by COVID-19. This plan contains numerous strategies to promote eco-tourism, heritage tourism, and agritourism opportunities. Persevered farms, open space, and historic resources are heavily featured in Somerset County’s Sip & See Somerset initiative, conducted as a joint effort with the Somerset County Business Partnership.

By considering the intersecting impacts of history, economic development, and climate change, Somerset County took the opportunity through developing this plan to address all of them in tandem, and found some interesting areas where one approach could support a second priority or goal. By focusing on properly preserving farmland and open spaces, the County has an eye to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Specifically, the County’s open space inventory is approaching 15,000 acres, and now carries a new goal of 24,000 acres. The County also has close to 9,000 acres of farmland preserved with a new goal of 16,000 acres, carrying on the tradition of agriculture in New Jersey that earned us the nickname “The Garden State.”

New Jersey Future is pleased to announce the Somerset County Preservation Plan as an award winner for the Smart Growth Awards for 2023. The plan combines three supporting plans into one holistic approach, allowing for all components of otherwise separate plans to interact, and become greater than the sum of its parts. Looking forward, this plan will be instrumental in facilitating the preservation of lands and development of Somerset County’s economy, ensuring its municipalities are on a sure footing for the opportunities and challenges to come.


See all 2023 Smart Growth Award winners

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