Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 42
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
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“Where are We Growing?” Symposium Looks at New Jersey’s Next 20 Years

Ellen Gilbert

“There’s a tendency to say ‘let’s start all over,’” observed New Jersey Conservation Foundation Executive Director Michele Byers at a conference last week on “Planning for New Jersey’s Next 20 Years.” Sponsored by the Princeton University Policy Research Institute for the Region, the event drew leaders from state and local government agencies, corporate representatives, and other policy makers to talk about “Where Are We Growing?”

Ms. Byers, who is also a member of the State Planning Commission was quick, however, to dismiss the notion of tossing out the baby with the bath water. While acknowledging that problems like water quality and transportation issues “are still so deep,” starting over would, she said, “be a disservice to the huge public investment and all the work that’s gone before.”

Former State Planning Commission Chair Joseph J. Maraziti, Jr. concurred, observing that “the landscape is not as bleak as it may sound in moving to utilization of the State Plan,” which was adopted over 20 years ago. When it was first presented, Mr. Maraziti noted, “hands went up” and people expressed skepticism about why anyone would want to move to urban areas in N.J. “That wouldn’t happen now,” he observed, pointing to progress in court adoptions of the plan for use in zoning decisions. “The dynamic has changed.”

The audience, which filled the Robertson Auditorium at the Woodrow Wilson School for International Affairs and spilled over into a second, downstairs bowl where the proceedings were simulcast, was reminded by Executive Director of the N.J. Highlands Council, Eileen Swan, that N.J. is the most densely populated state in the nation.

Ms. Swan, who is the former Executive Director of the Office of Smart Growth, pointed to the many people in the auditorium with whom she had worked over the years, and emphasized the importance of a “cross-acceptance process” that brought together Department of Transportation, state, county, and local governments to work on state planning, smart growth, and land preservation.

“Change is difficult,” Ms. Swan observed. “The Pinelands didn’t come easily.” The Pinelands National Reserve (PNR) was created by Congress under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 as the first National Reserve in the nation. Encompassing approximately 1.1 million acres covering portions of seven counties and all or parts of 56 municipalities, the region is protected in a manner that maintains its unique ecology while permitting compatible development.

Pointing to the wide use of water from the N.J. Highlands, Ms. Swan suggested that “there should be a water user fee. Everyone has benefitted from the Highlands; everyone should pay.” She also called for making “information on existing conditions” throughout the state more available.

Mr. Maraziti sounded a note of concern as he observed that there is “much less land available today. We have no time to lose in making land use more effective.”

Ms. Byers reminded participants that the history of state planning in N.J. dates back to the 1930s, and that the “State Planning Act still holds tremendous promise.”

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