By Stephanie Noda
Protecting the New Jersey Highlands is vital to the lives of all the citizens of New Jersey; although the Highlands region “covers less than one quarter of the State’s land,” it provides drinking water for 65% of residents, according a Highlands Regional Master Plan Overview from Washington Township. An effort to protect this valuable water source was made in 2003, in the form of The Highlands Act; this act, according an overview by the Pequannock River Coalition, “was meant to protect and restore the quantity and quality of water resources across the Highlands region.” The overview goes on to say that fifteen members of the Highlands Council were charged with creating a Regional Master Plan to help protect the quality of water.
Although this act was meant to protect the citizens of New Jersey by making sure their water is clean, the Highlands Regional Master Plan has caused some issues involving property value for residents; however, a TDR (Transfer Development Rights) program is being put into place that may help solve the property value issues.
One of the issues associated with the Highlands Regional Master Plan is reduced property value. The main goal behind the Regional Master Plan is to make sure the New Jersey Highland is to prevent exponential expansion of industrial growth. According to an article called “Reacting to the Highlands Regional Master Plan” by Lewis Goldshore, a member of a League Environmental Counsel, this growth is monitored by through the use of three zone overlay sections: “a protection zone in which development will be severely limited; a conservation zone consisting of agricultural lands where growth will be constrained by inadequate infrastructure or the need to protect important agricultural resources; and a planned community zone comprised of lands that have sufficient infrastructure capacity and land use characteristics to support growth.” Although there is some growth planned, continues Goldshore, it will be very limited; “Only about 4 percent of that area was assigned to the planned community zone. Planning area municipalities that voluntarily participate in the Highlands process will also experience strict growth limits since 70 percent of that area has been designated as protection zone or conservation zone.”
This plan, however, affects the property value of already existing land of residents in this area. If these people ever had the desire to move out of this area, they would have a hard time selling their house for a decent price. Although this may be problematic for citizens, there are efforts to help compensate for the resident’s loss in property value. A TDR program, which stands for “reviewed development/redevelopment, transportation and transfer of development,” would be designed to “provide preservation area landowners with some compensation for reduced property values,” according to Goldman’s article. This money, the article continues, would be funded through “Highlands Development Credits that would authorize increased density in the planning areas yet to be identified (the voluntary receiving zones).” It is the hope of planners of this “smart growth” that they ability to reduce the amount of industrial construction would not cause residents to be happy with their quality of life. If the TDR program is put into effect, residents should be able to comfortable with their living situation, despite the lack of growth.