By Deanna Dunsmuir
The mayor of West Milford, Bettina Bieri, published an opinion piece on Friday entitled, "Why the Highlands Act is Good for Our Town," in the Daily Record. The Passiac county town is one of five municipalities that fall completely under the Highlands preservation region regulations in the New Jersey Highlands Regional Master Plan.
Bieri’s argument was directed at “any town considering conformance” to the regional master plan.
The mayor feels that keeping out big businesses and housing developments with the restrictions that are part of the Highlands protection act will help preserve the scenery and recreational areas that the town residents see as an asset.
The Highlands Regional Master Plan acts to preserve land such as this in West Milfod.
“The burden of a large number of new housing units in the township would place a significant strain on our limited infrastructure and require the expansion of our schools and municipal services,” Bieri wrote.
The mayor would like to keep property taxes down by acting to halt the typical trend of increasing school sizes and a bigger municipal building; that comes along with new housing developments.
Milford is a rural township that hosts forested watersheds for reservoirs that provide drinking water to millions of residents in northern New Jersey.
How much of the region will be subjected to tight restrictions on development is still being resolved. About half of the region is in a core preservation area; the outer half is in a planning area with fewer restrictions on development. The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council submitted an addendum to the regional plan in 2010. The amendment redefines “acreage of the Highlands Region in municipalities and counties,” the report said.
The new report is said to be a more accurate account of what land falls under the planning and preservation areas. The new data was provided by the New Jersey Office of Information Technology.
The Highland Regional master plan, developed in 2008, was designed to protect the best watersheds in the northern part of New Jersey, along with protecting ecosystems and air quality.
Although the plan will certainly protect the towns like West Milford from big businesses and housing developers, Bieri wrote that it also places some restrictions on her town’s needs.
“The act needs to provide for exemptions to allow necessary municipal projects,” she says, hoping to be able to provide emergency service buildings and libraries at the town’s will.
“The act also needs to provide a mechanism for revenue generation in an effort to bring fairness and equity to the developmentally restricted Preservation Areas that have been mandated to protect New Jersey's drinking water," she added. "A nominal water surcharge imposed upon the end user would accomplish equity without placing a burden on any New Jersey resident or family.”
The Highlands Regional Plan can be found at this website.