Policy Notes: November 2023
Pinelands Commission Reveals First ‘Package’ of CMP Amendments to Tackle in the New Year. Policy Notes are designed to update the public on the activities of the Pinelands Commission, which have been summarized by Pinelands Preservation Alliance staff who attend all public meetings of the Commission
By Heidi YehDecember 11, 2023
MOA = Make Overly Arduous?
“I almost choked to death on my water… I might die because I actually agree with Carleton” said Commissioner Alan Avery, in a rare moment of agreement with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. This was in response to a public comment made at the P&I Committee meeting by PPA’s Executive Director Carleton Montgomery about the difficult process of getting an accessible trail approved by the Pinelands Commission via a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA):
“The lessons learned here should be put into rules that are tailored to trails, because whether you are looking at the CMP, or I’ve gone through all the DEP regulations that are relevant to this issue; not a single one of them was enacted with the concern of accessibility in mind… None of them have rules that actually speak to what makes a trail sustainable as opposed to roads, driveways, parking areas, and so on. There are standards for what is a good well-constructed trail in a natural setting; they are not in any of these bodies of rules…”
There has been a growing interest in accessible trails and other nature experiences for those with mobility challenges. The Pemberton trail MOA is likely just the first of a long list of towns seeking to build their own accessible trails. The 13-step MOA process is unwieldy, and could unnecessarily discourage interested applicants from pursuing trail plans of their own. Approving plans via MOA’s are not ideal, because these represent intentional deviations from the Pinelands CMP. PPA is advocating for the Pinelands Commission to make changes to the CMP in the coming year that could set consistent standards for these trails and facilitate an easier application process.
In the meantime, we have to work with the MOA process that currently exists to turn bureaucratic lemons into lemonade. A public hearing will be held to collect public comments for this proposed MOA on Wednesday, December 13 at 2 PM. You can read the public notice and the proposed MOA, then plan to attend the virtual hearing by tuning in to the livestream here.
Amazon isn’t the only one delivering Packages this holiday season…
Commission staff presented details for several CMP amendments that are due to be proposed early next year as part of ‘Package 1’; this will presumably be followed by a Package 2, 3, etc. of other amendments that require more time to develop than these first ‘low-hanging fruits’. One particularly consequential change is the codification of certain changes/additions to the PDC program. We first wrote about this trend of towns seeking to convert land—and the PDC requirements attached to them—to non-residential uses in March of this year. Other notable changes include making the utility right-of-way vegetation management program permanent, and adding expiration dates to certain documents issued by the Pinelands Commission. These, and other changes, are expected to receive a final vote at the February 2024 meeting of the Pinelands Commission.
This package came with a gift for Evesham residents: after consistently receiving public comments from concerned neighbors, and reconsidering the infrastructure contingencies of the original plan, Pinelands Commission staff revealed an amended plan to protect the Black Run Watershed. Rather than completely preserving the majority of the land by clustering development in one corner, the Commission is now proposing to reduce the number of residential units that can be built throughout, bringing the maximum number down from 244 to 35. Given the environmental constraints of some of the plots, the practical number may be even smaller. There is still hope that the land may be preserved outright so that even this low-density development may be prevented.
All We Want for Christmas is: Another Seat Filled on the Pinelands Commission
Four years ago, Governor Murphy nominated a slate of individuals for the Pinelands Commission. One of these individuals is still waiting to volunteer as a Pinelands Commissioner – Jessica Rittler Sanchez. If Dr. Sanchez doesn’t get approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate by January, the process starts all over again. Dr. Sanchez will finally have her nomination considered at the next meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee; please show your support for this critical addition to the Pinelands Commission by contacting senators on the committee.
Jessica Rittler Sanchez, Ph.D., is a regional planner specializing in water resources policy and management. She worked for the Delaware River Basin Commission until her retirement in 2018. A Rutgers graduate (MCRP, Ph.D.) and Pinelands resident from Tabernacle, Dr. Sanchez has focused her career on the water resource issues of New Jersey, especially the relationship between human development and the natural environment. Dr. Sanchez has been nominated to replace Gary Quinn, who was nominated by Governor Christie in 2011.
Pinelands Municipal Council Watch
Months since the Pinelands Municipal Council Last met: 14
But who is counting, anyway? The topic hasn’t even been mentioned at a Pinelands Commission meeting since September of 2023, when a possible revival of the council was teased.
What we are hearing from residents
A proposal in Manchester township is the latest example of redevelopment laws gone awry: an old mining site and a forest are at the center of this plan, with one slated to be preserved as a conservation district, and the other to be ‘redeveloped’ into a warehouse and housing development. Can you guess which one was deemed to be ‘in need of redevelopment’: the forest or the abandoned mine? If you’ve been following South Jersey development trends, then the answer is obvious: the undeveloped forest, of course! You can read more about the threat that ‘redevelopment’ has been posing to South Jersey forests in a recent op-ed by PPA staff.
We have received multiple questions from residents who are concerned about things that their neighbors are building or business operations that seem to be polluting more than they are probably allowed to do. We are investigating these cases and helping residents access relevant enforcement resources. If there is a development or other activity that you are concerned about, please don’t hesitate to ‘send us a tip’!
Many of our members are engaged in the fight for the Pole Bridge Forest, with some coming all the way from Princeton and Philadelphia to attend last month’s Pinelands Community Network Meeting on the topic. Our petition has garnered 3,500+ signatures; please add your name, if you haven’t already!
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