By Jonathan Madden
The Highlands plan, a 200-page document designed to protect Mahwah’s watershed by limiting construction and possibly further reducing state regulation demanding a certain amount of affordable housing units, is still being tossed around by the Mahwah Council.
The lengthy document has gripped the attention of public servants in the Highlands Region and Mahwah residents alike. The plan addresses a 440,000-acre planning area of the total 859,000 acres that stretches from Mahwah to Hunterdon County’s farmlands. In Mahwah the dividing line between the planning area and the tightly restricted core in the Highlands region is Route 202. In addition to Mahwah’s austere zoning and environmental regulations, a go ahead with the Highlands Master Plan would mean further building limitations for builders looking to create more affordable housing units, more strict rules for residents looking to add on to homes. At issue is preserving land vital to the Highlands Watershed where 5.4 million or 65 percent of the state’s population receive their water.
Although a clause in the Highlands Plan allows the township of Mahwah to opt out of the plan at any time, many officials and Highlands Residents feel tentative such as Jody Garcia, resident of the Mahwah Township, “I’m not so sure if I’m willing to believe the town can opt out of such a decision with the zoning regulations already giving me a problem for an addition to my house. I can’t even image how hard it will become with even more regulations.” The Highlands Plan will also limit the town’s acting on some crucial density decisions while also gaining extra attention from another governmental branch.
Affordable housing will also be another area affected by adopting the Highlands Plan. According to Affordable Housing Administrator Dorothy Mcdonough, “By state regulation Mahwah has to adhere to 783 additional affordable housing units on top of what it already has now.” By opting for the Highlands Plan, many town officials aim to half that quota or reduce it to zero because of the plan’s strict zoning and building restrictions. A dramatic decrease in the quota for the number of affordable housing would mean a greatly decreased chance of Mahwah experiencing a housing boom as a result of builders seeking to take advantage of the remaining affordable housing units. Finding and purchasing affordable housing in Mahwah has found it’s way to the town’s spotlight many times. Consider Phillipe Gallardo, resident of Spring Valley New York, who has had to move from Mahwah and seek more affordable residential options in a neighboring town. “I lived in Mahwah most my life but it’s too expensive to leave here now, the Highlands Plan is taking away my hope of living in Mahwah again.”
Should the adoption of the Highlands Plan limit the number of affordable housing units, many residential commodities such as local schools, the Fire Department, and the Police Department will be able to exhale in relief as an opportunity for housing and population boom to hit Mahwah would disintegrate. Adopting the Highlands Plan would create an impact felt by many such as those residents and officials already concerned with more zoning and building regulation.