There’s an adage that says “When building is good, the economy is good.” And that’s no lie since it seems like construction is going on everywhere you look. In urban areas where space is at a premium, new buildings are being built out of old. In local downtowns, it seems every last space is being developed. But in New Jersey, there is still a bit of heaven that exists because of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act. It presides over 800,000 acres and 1,250 square miles. This vast expanse encompasses 88 municipalities in seven counties (Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren).
Our own Darlene Green, PP, AICP has been working closely with Lebanon Borough to help this community become the first designated Highlands Center in Hunterdon County.
“Lebanon has 577 acres within the Planning Area. With all the characteristics needed for this designation, it’s the perfect candidate,“ explained Darlene. “Essentially, Lebanon has agreed to conform their local master plan and development and land use goals within the planning area to be in-line with those put forth by the Regional Master Plan.”
In return, this conformance aligns Lebanon to receive special benefits: technical assistance, state aid, priority for projects, tax stabilization funds, a strong presumption of validity and extraordinary deference in the event of legal challenge, and legal representation.
The New Jersey Highlands Region is an essential source of drinking water for half of New Jersey residents. As the area contains exceptional natural resources, the Highlands Act limits construction and development unless consistent with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan.
Perhaps the biggest reward is that Center Designation has opened the door to additional grant funding for the Borough. This will enable the community to prepare planning studies related to rezoning, redevelopment and economic development.