Governor McGreevey has decided that “suburban sprawl” is bad. The Governor has also decided that “smart growth” is good. What is suburban sprawl? What is smart growth? The answers are unclear. Perhaps a map would help. But which map to use? There is the State Plan map created in 1992 at the time that the State Plan (Plan) was adopted by the State Planning Commission. Or should we refer to the draft Blueprint for Intelligent Growth (BIG) map as published by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) without statutory authority or substance? What is a property owner, prospective purchaser, land developer, or New Jersey municipality to do? The State Plan which was revised and re-adopted in 2001, divided the state into five planning areas ranging from areas where new growth and development are required to be channeled (planning areas 1 and 2) to areas where little or no growth are deemed appropriate (area 5). The State Plan also identifies various Centers which are to be the focal point of future growth and development. The Plan is intended to be used by other state agencies such as the NJDEP, the NJDOT and the NJDCA. Apparently unsatisfied with the way that the State’s own agencies have utilized the Plan, Governor McGreevey introduced and signed Executive Order no. 4 on January 31, 2002. This Order recognizes the existence of the State Plan, yet cites that New Jersey still suffers from the effects of poor land use planning and decision making. As the cure, Executive Order no. 4 has created in the Office of the Governor, a Smart Growth Policy Council (Council). At a recent seminar on the topic, the Commissioners of NJDEP, NJDOT and NJDCA attempted to define smart growth by use of the negative, sharing with all of the attendees that the past 40 years of growth in New Jersey was dumb growth. Yes, all of that development which occurred pursuant to the laws which have governed land use and development in the State was all wrong. Now we will have “smart growth” which appears to be that which will be consistent with the BIG map. The DEP has indicated that it will adopt this map as part of one of its regulatory programs. And further, other programs will reference it. The green light areas are those which are already developed and where additional development will be permitted, and the red light areas are those where NJDEP will “discourage” development. And with these bright line distinctions, the yellow areas are those which are may be yes, and may be no to growth, and growth in those areas may or may not be smart.
The current maze and mix of maps, regulations and phases of implementation make land use acquisition and development as simple as a stroll through Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Aficionados of Alice in Wonderland may recall that the way out of Wonderland was for Alice to find order in disorder, in other words, to make order out of chaos. Quite a challenge in the current New Jersey land use regulatory environment. And no one is grinning!
Stuart D. Liebman is the Managing Partner of the Paramus Office of WJ&L and the Chairperson of our land use practice.