Policy Notes: October 2023
The Pinelands Commission reviews progress on land preservation and its funding priorities for the future.
By Heidi YehNovember 13, 2023
Commission Staff Provide Updates on Land Preservation in the Pinelands
As New Jersey rapidly approaches buildout (when all developable land will be developed; some have predicted this to come as soon as 2040), the portion of remaining land that is neither undeveloped nor preserved is becoming vanishingly small. At the last meeting of the Pinelands Commission, staff provided a summary of the total acres that have been protected over the course of the 2023 fiscal year (which ended in June).
Since the establishment of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, the Commission has overseen several programs that facilitate land preservation by different mechanisms. The number of preserved acres that could be attributed to these various mechanisms are summarized below:
‘PDC Severance’ refers to one of the hallmark pieces of the Pinelands Plan: The Pinelands Development Credit (PDC) program, which has created market-based development rights transfer program to facilitate land preservation within the Pinelands. You can read more about how the PDC program fits into the larger context of land preservation in the Pinelands in an earlier blog post, and learn more about its history and potential for future improvements in an excellent article by Jordan P. Howell et al. (2022).
Separate from the well-known PDC program, the Pinelands Commission also facilitates land preservation through several mechanisms that fall into the “Pinelands Program” bucket described above. This includes all deed restrictions that are established for any of the following reasons:
- negotiations to receive an exemption from the Commission from a Pinelands rule;
- as reparations for a violation of Pinelands rules;
- to facilitate septic dilution;
- rules to cluster development together, thus rendering the remainder of the lot undevelopable; or
- non-buildable subdivisions.
Although moving 1,359 acres (approximately 2 square miles) into permanent preservation is no small feat, it does represent a relative slowdown in the pace of land preservation. As opportunities for land preservation are dwindling, competition for space with various development interests is increasing. An interesting discussion ensued among the Commissioners: how do we create economic growth in areas where so much land is preserved? When towns/counties stand to lose tax revenues and jobs that would otherwise be created by development, it is imperative that a stronger economic case be made for preservation.
This presentation was then followed by a summary of the Pinelands Development Credit (PDC) Program over the same time period. One interesting finding was that affordable housing has driven an increase in affordable housing sales in recent years. Commission staff describe this as the result of town leaders coming to the Pinelands Commission to consult with them on zoning changes, initially driven by their need to provide more affordable housing. The plans that the Commission then helps the towns to craft to achieve their affordable housing objectives often end up being large mixed-use development plans. The PDC requirements are attached to market-rate units or the non-residential parts of the development, so affordable units are still exempted. Would these large projects still pop up if they weren’t precipitated by the need for more affordable housing? Maybe. But the need for affordable housing seems to add urgency and gives the Pinelands Commission more leverage to negotiate mandatory PDC requirements, often replacing zoning in which PDCs were just optional to achieve bonus residential density.
Setting priorities for the future of the Pinelands Conservation Fund
The P&I Committee meeting featured a staff presentation and discussion (view the YouTube recording here) on current and future priorities for the use of the Pinelands Conservation Fund. This was the first of several conversations that are planned to take place over the next few meetings leading up to the final review and authorization planned in January. We anticipate discussions on the merits of strategies that prioritize specific ecosystems (such as grasslands and Atlantic White Cedar stands) or providing more funding for the ongoing upkeep (a.k.a. stewardship) of lands after they are acquired and preserved.
Clarity needed on long-awaited Black Run Preserve CMP Amendments:
Neighbors living near the Black Run Preserve have been providing public comments at several recent meetings of the Pinelands Commission outlining their concerns with a plan that would change how future development is distributed. Although the plan is over a decade in-the-making, a concrete proposal has yet to be released. In the absence of a proposal, members of the public have been left to fill in the information vacuum with their own ideas and fears. PPA is generally in support of efforts to preserve the integrity of the Black Run watershed, but cannot provide clarity for the public when we have not been privy to the final details of the plan. We understand that the progress of this amendment has been delayed by the re-proposal that was required for the K-C protection amendments, but it is not fair to neighboring communities to prolong the wait for this proposal that has been nearly finished since 2015.
Pinelands Municipal Council Watch
Months since the Pinelands Municipal Council Last met: 13
What we are hearing from residents and specific applications of concern:
- Auto Auction lots popping up in South Jersey: I first learned about this phenomenon in association with the recent closure of the Atco Dragway: auto businesses have been buying up old raceways and other properties with a large amount of pavement as places to store their cars. This strategy typically grandfathers the new business into whatever environmental regulations were on the books at the time that the lot was originally cleared. Apparently, this trend has spread beyond raceways, with several auto auction lots setting up shop throughout South Jersey. In cases where the physical footprint remains static, the change may be inconsequential. However, this arrangement may raise issues if any of the ‘totaled’ cars are leaking fluids, especially since areas with a high amount of impervious/paved surface tend to be more flood-prone.
- Concerns about an application for herbicide use in Hammonton Lake. Two protected species of bladderworts have been known to live in this lake, hidden among a much more common species of bladderwort that the town is trying to control. Earlier this year, the Pinelands Commission asked Hammonton to perform a survey for threatened & endangered species that could be affected by herbicide use. Evidence of the protected bladderworts was confirmed, so the town and Pinelands Commission must now explore alternative treatments.