Home > Uncategorized > Warehouse Development Threat To Rural NJ Exposes Failures In State And Regional Planning and Regulation

Warehouse Development Threat To Rural NJ Exposes Failures In State And Regional Planning and Regulation

Reliance on Local And County Government For “Sustainable” Solutions Is Misguided

State Abdication Leaves Towns On Their Own Against Corporate Power

The Legislature further finds and declares that the protection of the New Jersey Highlands, because of its vital link to the future of the State’s drinking water supplies and other key natural resources, is an issue of State level importance that cannot be left to the uncoordinated land use decisions of 88 municipalities, seven counties, and a myriad of private landowners. ~~~ NJ Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act

NJ Spotlight reports today on a planning study “Light Industrial Site Assessment” in Warren County, NJ – ironically funded by the NJ Highlands Council – that highlights threats of major warehouse development to rural NJ, see:

For critical sources, the story relies on a local “sustainable development” group and the corporate dominated planning group NJ Future.

Regular readers here know that for over a decade, I have strongly criticized those groups for abandoning effective state, regional and DEP planning and regulatory powers for reliance on local governments, private market solutions, and ineffective feel good voluntary individual measures, slogans, and token gestures (aka the Neoliberal corporate agenda).

Those criticisms have only grown more valid as the climate emergency highlights the need for and validates longstanding principles and practices of traditional regional land use planning and regulation (to reduce energy consumption, preserve prime agricultural lands/soils and forests, protect water resources, etc).

While we need planning, government intervention, regulation, and sound land use now more than ever to respond to the climate emergency, the environmental groups effectively have abandoned the “sprawl” issue and left the field to misguided groups and neoliberal strategies. (The notion of “planning” is largely foreign territory to most environmental groups, and “regulation” has almost become a dirty word. Similarly, as a result of vanishing advocacy, public support has waned and government capacity has been severely eroded.)

Without rehashing all that, for the context of this Warren County warehouse story, let’s just that that certain important dimensions of the story were left out, while the recommended solutions were completely wrong.

For example, right on page one of the Report, we find this statement:

Locations within the Highlands Preservation area were not considered as developable. …

It is noted that road widening may be prohibited on roadways and intersections that are adjacent to the Highlands Preservation Area boundary and may affect how widening concepts are advanced.

Repeat: “not developable” – “road widening may be prohibited”.

We see similar findings with respect to constraints on development imposed by DEP regulations:

Environmental constraints for each site that could limit developable area were identified and removed from the calculated developable areas. These included wetlands, waterways, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zones, preserved open space, and preserved farmland. These are constraints that cannot be or would be difficult to overcome; therefore, they have been excluded from the total developable area.

So, the solution to the warehouse “problem” is obvious, no? (yes, we understand that not all of Warren County is in the Highlands Preservation Area. Our point is about enforceable state and regional planning and regulation).

Those critical facts were not reported by NJ Spotlight. Perhaps that was intentional, to avoid embarrassing Warren County officials who have long opposed and even filed a lawsuit to block the Highlands Act. Their opposition includes efforts to assure that the State Plan has no teeth and the DEP is attacked and opposed.

The solutions are regional planning and regulatory powers enforced by State and regional institutions (not county and local governments).

NJ has a well developed, time tested, and legally valid effective suite of State and regional planning and regulatory laws and institutions, i.e. 1) the NJ State Development and Redevelopment Plan and The State Planning Commission; 2) The Highlands Act, Regional Master Plan, and Highlands Council; and 3) the Department of Environmental Protection land use and water resource planning and permitting programs (as well as the State Department of Transportation).

So, why does the Spotlight story not only omit all that and focus exclusively on local and county voluntary coordination and demonstrably weak and ineffective tools under the “home rule” oriented NJ Municipal Land Use Law?

That failure is the result of reliance on sources that are right wing political ideologues. These folks serve in places of government power and are supported by residents in places like Warren and Sussex County who have long opposed the any role for State government (or the Highlands Council).

They opposed the State Plan, The Highlands Act, and the DEP.

Because groups like NJ Future and Sustainable NJ have duped and diverted well meaning residents and activists.

Of course, none of that history, context, law and institutions was mention in NJ Spotlight’s story.

Instead, NJ Spotlight again was duped by those who now need to cover their asses for huge strategic and political mistakes.

It is incredible that NJ Spotlight runs a story that proposes to rely on county and local government to control development THE DAY AFTER DEP just proposed to deny a water pollution permit to kill a new 700,000 square foot office park “sprawl”! (Google Bellemeade Development Corporation in Tewksbury, NJPDES permit – the decision is not yet published).

Because no way would NJ Spotlight provide me an Op-Ed opportunity to set the record straight, I fired off the below note to reporter Jon Hurdle – it’s not the first time he’s be duped like this, so I suspect the framing and sourcing of the story was influenced by Foundation grants, including Wm. Penn Foundation money:

John – there are 3 major omissions from your story that cry out for a followup:

1) Conservative anti-government and anti-regulatory officials and citizens in Warren and Sussex County have long strongly opposed the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, the Highlands Council, The RMP, and the DEP’s various regional planning and regulatory programs. (“Home rule”, “takings”, “State mandates” “red tape” etcetera)

That is what is behind the drive to make this a County and local government initiative –

Why try to reinvent the wheel and rely on weak and ineffective local and county coordinatation when existing State and regional planning and regulatory tools – which could solve the problem – are being neglected?

2) There is no valid distinction in the governing (or institutional) responsibility land use planning between warehouse land uses and residential land uses. The State Plan & Highlands RMP address land use. DEP protects resources so the type of land use is irrelevant. The distinction NJ Future makes is absurd and unprofessional (from a Planning perspective: Full disclosure I studied regional planning at Cornell for the MRP degree).

3) NJ Future – and groups like “Sustainable NJ” – have foolishly relied primarily on local governments, the NJ Municipal land Use Law, and voluntary private sector actions, while neglecting or even criticizing State, regional, and regulatory powers.

Just like the political actors, they too now are covering their asses for major strategic mistakes.

Why do you so consistently rely on sources that provide a false framing?


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