By Molly Rothberg
When the New Jersey Highlands Council began a public participation program in 2005 towards the development of the Highlands Regional Master Plan, it hoped the plan would gain local support. That plan is now showing signs of success.
According to a press release from the N.J. Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, local plans from 39 towns and 9 Highlands centers have been approved. Among the towns with approved plans is Mahwah, which is one of two Bergen County communities in the Highlands region. The overall total includes 60 towns that have submitted petitions to conform local master plans to the Highlands Master Plan. So far, these have resulted in a 97 percent conformance in the Preservation Area and 33 percent conformance in the Planning Area lands.
The Regional Master Plan’s initiative is to also promote sustainable economic development and re-development in areas that are already developed, Highlands Council Chairman Jim Rilee stated in the press release. These areas are primarily in the Planning Area sections of the region. The Preservation Area is a core section that hosts regional reservoirs and headwaters of water supply streams.
“A key responsibility of the Highlands Council is to balance preservation activities with the economic health of Highlands communities. Highlands Centers are an excellent example of achieving this goal and we look forward to working with these municipalities as they develop their plans,” Rilee said
With the voluntary support and action from residents, communities have been coming forward to conform in the Planning Area, even where it is not mandatory. The plan is designed to benefit communities as well as developing a sustainable future that protects natural resources and local economies.
In an earlier press release from 2005, back before the plan began, then-Council Chair John Weingart stated the criteria for success in gaining local support.
“The only way the Council will successfully accomplish the challenging tasks we have been given is with advice and feedback from people with a wide variety of viewpoints and areas of expertise,” Weingart said.
Since then, it is safe to say that the Highlands communities continue to do their job. The Regional Master Plan continues to develop as towns conform and the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council approves a long list of local plans.
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