Putting a Chill on Sprawl in New Jersey

Have regional planning efforts in Morris County, New Jersey played a key role in stopping sprawl? And can they provide a model for communities around the country?

Those are the questions being asked today by Streetsblog Network member Hugh Bartling, who cites an article in the Morris County New Jersey Daily Record about the cessation of large-scale residential subdivisions in that part of the state:

2657160732_ca6e5c6390.jpgSpeedwell Lake in Morris County, NJ, where protections for open space and water quality have helped stall sprawl. Photo by iceage366 via Flickr.

While the economic downturn, depressed housing prices, and the credit crunch may also have had something to do with halting development, the article emphasizes the power of a 2004 state legislative initiative — The Highlands Act — as being the primary reason.

The Act was established to protect open space and water quality in northern New Jersey.  My understanding is that the seven counties and over 80 municipalities that are located in the Highlands area have to insure that their plans are in compliance with the regional Highlands Plan.  Additionally, the Plan is governed by a regional council that has veto power over large development decisions.

This type of regional decision making power is essential to minimize the negative consequences that accompany the typical fragmented land use decisions seen elsewhere in North America.  If it seems like the Highlands Plan is really influencing the trajectory of development in northwestern New Jersey, it might be a useful model for other states to follow in order to bring some coherence to metropolitan development.

Other news from around the network: Trains for America reports that Memphis wants in on the high-speed rail action; Baltimore Spokes has a post on an 11 percent increase in the number of Americans riding bikes for transportation and recreation in 2008 compared to the previous year; and Bike Blog NYC has the video of a guy who commutes 40 miles to work each way — by bicycle.

  • Boris

    The main reason the Sierra Club of New Jersey is against resuming rail service on the Lackawanna Cutoff in the Highlands is because they say it runs contrary to the Highlands Act and will produce sprawl. The compromise position of rail + TOD, which may actually reduce sprawl in the whole area, seems to elude all parties.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The compromise position of rail + TOD, which may actually reduce sprawl in the whole area, seems to elude all parties.”

    NIMBYISM and exclusionary zoning often hides behind environmentalism in the suburbs. Morris is one of the most affluent counties in the region. They don’t want rowhouses and apartments, and those who might be able to afford them, even if this preserves the land.

  • While I agree with the above (not a big fan of the NJ Sierra Club BTW and I have a degree in ecology) I like to point to something else sprawl does.

    It totally ruins recreational cycling! Many of the roads I ride for fun in New Jersey were once bucolic, scenic and almost free of traffic just a mere 15 years ago. Now many have been widened to accommodate the sprawling hordes who are bound to their cars for everything they must do. Repeat this over and over and whole regions that once held near endless recreational cycling possibilities are now so scary and unpleasant from traffic and sprawl that few want or dare bicycle.


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