New Jersey has a history of nationally recognized successes such as the State Planning Act, Fair Housing Act, and Mount Laurel decisions, as well as landmark protections for the Pinelands and the Highlands regions.
These regional planning and affordable housing successes came about through bipartisan leadership and a consensus that New Jersey’s future well-being required actions and sacrifices that went beyond the term of any one elected official.
Today state planning is moribund, and the environment, transportation, housing, and community revitalization suffer.
The 2001 New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan provides a starting framework. The plan established key indicators and targets for evaluating economic, environmental, infrastructure, urban revitalization, and intergovernmental coordination impacts.64 The plan projected65 that, with full implementation, the benefits for New Jersey in 2020 would include:
- Savings of $160 million annually to towns, counties, and school districts
- 870 fewer miles of roads and savings of $870 million in local road costs
- Savings of $1.45 billion in water and sewer costs
- A 27,000 increase in trips to work using mass transit
- 22,000 fewer acres of land converted to development, including 68,000 acres of farmland and 45,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land
- Reversal of a projected $340 million loss in household income in urban communities, to a gain of $3 billion
While the 2001 State Plan was implemented by some municipalities, counties, and departments of state government, progress was uneven due to the largely voluntary nature of the State Plan. Further, since 2001, New Jersey has come to better understand the impact of climate change and the extreme weather it brings. The enormous toll that Superstorm Sandy took on the state brought attention to the need to plan for “resiliency”—a term that reflects the ability to both mitigate the impact of climate change (by reducing emissions, for example) and adapt to climate change (such as by not building in flood zones).66
Today the State Plan would benefit from adding key indicators and targets for housing and climate resiliency into planning efforts.
A good model is the recently developed OneNYC plan that strives to address New York City’s long-term challenges of “changing climate conditions, an evolving economy, and aging infrastructure.”67 OneNYC aims to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty in the next decade, send zero waste to landfills by 2030, stop long-term displacement of residents from jobs and homes after disasters, and reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.68 In parallel, New York City also created a comprehensive climate action plan in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that described $19.5 billion in necessary investments and included over 250 recommendations for action to increase climate resiliency.69
PUTTING TEETH BACK INTO PLANNING
The State Plan provided New Jersey with tools and principles needed to make decisions about growth and development based on factors geared toward producing a desirable quality of life across the state. Where the State Plan fell short, however, was in implementation. As a largely voluntary guide, the State Plan never provided strong enough incentives to municipalities to sustain ongoing participation and carry out the State Plan’s goals and principles.
With the addition of a strong set of financial, legal, and regulatory incentives and by addressing the challenges posed by climate change, the State Plan could provide a solid basis for increasing economic growth, expanding housing opportunity, and making more efficient infrastructure investment.
Update the State Plan, regional plans, and local plans through an inclusive process.
Planning review should include consideration of a variety and choice of housing, climate resiliency, environmental protection, urban revitalization, transportation investment, and economic development—as well as a strong system of financial, legal, and regulatory incentives for municipalities to engage in state and regional planning. The state should provide technical assistance and resources to municipalities to develop and implement local or regional climate resiliency plans.
The process also should include updating regional plans, including in the Highlands, Pinelands, and Meadowlands, to promote consistent and efficient decision-making.
Restore the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission as an independent agency, and restore tax-base-sharing among municipalities in the covered region.
After decades of success, regional tax-base-sharing in the Meadowlands district—under which 14 towns shared in the costs and benefits of development—was eliminated in 2015. The Meadowlands Commission itself was subsumed within the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Eliminating tax-base-sharing and disbanding the Meadowlands Commission brought a reduction in rational and mutually beneficial decision-making. A restored Meadowlands Commission can serve as a model for other regional planning efforts in New Jersey and elsewhere.
After the destruction brought by Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey missed the opportunity to rebuild in ways that respond to climate change. Much of the rebuilding was driven by a desire to return to development patterns that existed before the storm, rather than to foster safer communities prepared for future flooding. Although most homes were rebuilt to better withstand future storms, New Jersey failed to develop a consensus on where and how development should be promoted and how best to protect vulnerable people and ecosystems from the urgent threats of climate change and rising sea levels. While the State Plan is an appropriate vehicle to address climate resiliency, special attention to New Jersey’s coastal areas is warranted, given their vulnerability to climate change.
Create a regional planning body to protect people, foster resilient communities, and protect ecological resources along the coast.
Undertake a regional planning process along New Jersey’s coast, with an emphasis on climate resiliency, open-space acquisition, and planned retreat from vulnerable locations, as well as a providing a variety and choice of housing in resilient neighborhoods.
A coastal regional planning body with land-use planning powers would better protect New Jersey from impending impacts of climate change, including flooding, sea-level rise, and increased intensity and frequency of storms.70 A coastal regional planning process would potentially protect lives, guard valuable infrastructure, save billions of dollars, and restore vulnerable coastal habitat.71
The planning body would be tasked with coordinating various levels of government as well as providing technical assistance and financial resources to local governments to help with implementing a coastal regional plan.