Policy Notes: September 2023
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 YehOctober 16, 2023
P&I Committee Discusses Enduro Racing in the Pinelands
The Pinelands Commission is responsible for overseeing the permits for Enduro Races in the Pinelands, yet no sitting member of the Commission had ever actually been to one of these events—that is, until Commissioner Lohbauer set out to correct this. The last Policy & Implementation Committee meeting featured a presentation summarizing his experiences attending enduro events in recent months. Lohbauer then led a discussion with his fellow Commissioners on the tension between this recreational activity and the environmental mission of the Pinelands (meeting recording available on YouTube).
Interestingly, the Pinelands Commission has no formal definition for what an enduro event is, but Wikipedia tells us that it is a “form of motorcycle sport run on extended cross-country, off-road courses” with the most common manifestation being a ‘time-card’ enduro “whereby a number of stages are raced in a time trial against the clock.” This sport has existed in the Pinelands since at least the 1960’s, pre-dating the Pinelands Protection Act. The entity currently responsible for organizing these events in our area is the East Coast Enduro Association (ECEA).
Commissioner Lohbauer’s presentation featured the sights and sounds of enduro races, as well as the economic impacts of these events. Roughly half of race registrants are from out of state. One fascinating finding was that New Jersey has the highest concentration of enduro events in our region. The closest courses outside of our state are in Pennsylvania, as enduro events are completely banned in Delaware, and severely restricted in Maryland.
Commissioner Lohbauer emphasized the difference between these sanctioned events and the problem of illegal off-road vehicle usage that occurs outside of this context. Although technically separate uses, there is undoubtedly a connection, whereby riders may enjoy the sanctioned events and then return to ride and expand these trail networks illegally. PPA’s Public Lands Advocate Jason Howell made a public comment about the work that our organization does to clean up and repair the damage that is done by illegal off-road vehicles outside of these events. We have worked with the East Coast Enduro Association (ECEA) to co-author a letter to the Pinelands Commission, outlining ways in which the regulation of off-road vehicle activity outside of these events could be improved.
No changes in Pinelands Commission policies regulating enduro races are currently anticipated; this was simply the first discussion among Commissioners to gain more familiarity with these events.
Mapping Our Way to Climate Resilience
The Pinelands climate ain’t what it used to be. Climate change has brought an increased threat of flooding and wildfire to the Pinelands. Locations where it might have made sense to build just a few decades ago may now be significantly less hospitable to human development. However, not all tracts of land will be impacted equally. To maximize ecological benefits for wildlife and foster climate-resilient communities, it would be wise to direct future development away from the most climate-vulnerable sites.
To this end, Pinelands Commission staff have been performing a mapping analysis to identify areas in the Pinelands where current zoning may be at odds with our future climate reality. The Pinelands Protection Act, and the management area boundaries that resulted from this legislation, were created in the late 1970’s—since this time, our understanding of climate change has grown significantly.
Using geospatial analysis, the PC focused on areas where growth is encouraged or permitted and overlaid this with various climate hazards (wildfire, inland flooding, coastal flooding, etc.) to see where potential conflicts may emerge. This resulted in the identification of land where some kind of change could be considered, such as down-zoning parcels (putting more restrictions on what can be built) that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Although this was not anticipated to result in large sweeping changes to the Pinelands map, some commissioners were still disappointed by the relatively small scale of these potential changes. The analysis identified around 1500 total acres where adjustments could be made—that’s just 2.3 square miles, approximately the size of Delanco Township or Gloucester City. Commissioner Lettman expressed her disappointment with the narrow scope of the analysis, which did not include more restrictive management areas such as Rural Development Areas, which could potentially impact more forests.
The gap between the expectation and reality may be the result of the somewhat ambiguous motivations for this exercise. Is our goal just to adapt to climate change by building in less vulnerable areas or to also mitigate the climate impacts of development by discouraging the destruction of forests and wetlands? It currently seems to be a little of both, but Commissioners want more of the latter. NJDEP regulations are already doing some of the heavy-lifting to make new developments climate-ready, such as with the new Inland Flood Protection Rule. To encourage more habitat conservation and protect the carbon sequestered in trees, plants, and soil, Commissioners floated ideas such as creating zones where wetlands restrictions could be even more strict.
It remains unclear what will actually be done with the results of this analysis. At the very least, it will provide the Pinelands Commission with an evidence-based foundation to guide their land conservation funds and encourage towns to redirect their development focus to other areas within their borders.
From Science to Policy: Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Protections Become Law
The long-awaited Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer protections were formally adopted at the September meeting of the Pinelands Commission. This took several months longer than expected, as Commission staff had to do the whole rules proposal process twice in order to incorporate comments from the mining industry. Modifications from the original September 2022 rules proposal included an exemption from regulation for ‘non-consumptive’ uses of water—this is anything that returns water directly to the source, with negligible impacts to the quality of the water. Despite these accommodations, some members of the mining industry are apparently still unhappy: a representative for a sand-mining company called to express their continued dissatisfaction with the rules. You can learn more about the importance of this water source on our website.
Pinelands Municipal Council Watch
Months since the Pinelands Municipal Council Last met: 12
A revival of the PMC has been teased at recent Pinelands Commission meetings, but solid details for a first meeting of the PMC remain elusive. There was a fleeting mention of the PMC at the climate committee meeting, which underscored the importance of the PMC for communicating information related to municipal preparedness for climate change impacts to town leadership. In the absence of the PMC, the Pinelands Commission does send information to the towns, but it is not nearly as effective as the direct interactions that used to occur at PMC meetings.
What We’re Hearing from Residents: Diners Going Out of Business
The Shamong Diner is slated to become a cannabis manufacturing and distribution facility and serve as a retail cannabis dispensary. The previous owner told the Pine Barrens Tribune: “I tried very hard to find someone to purchase it to be a diner, but, unfortunately, there were no takers.” In this case of building re-use, the property will remain relatively unchanged.
The Red Lion Diner has been slated for redevelopment since May 2022 when the Southampton township committee adopted ordinance 2022-05. One lot is proposed to be replaced by a Super Wawa, while the likely fate of the remaining 3 developable lots has yet to be determined.
The Pinelands Commission adopted a resolution to approve Southampton’s redevelopment ordinance by unanimous vote on August 12, 2022. These plans often do not specify the actual business that will set up shop there, and the ordinance simply describes that it allows a ‘variety of permitted commercial uses, including retail stores, service stations with convenience stores, restaurants, banks, personal and household services, professional services, medical services, business offices, gyms, and self-storage facilities.’ In its review of the redevelopment ordinance, Pinelands Commission staff noted that “the goal of the plan is to facilitate the coordinated redevelopment of the area for commercial uses while recognizing the existing use and environmental constraints of the tract.” From an environmental perspective, this ordinance has two interesting aspects that were highlighted by Pinelands Commission staff:
- Land preservation: For every 1,000 square feet of floor area that is built, 1 acre of land in the township’s RDA must be preserved (for low-intensity recreation, ecological management, and forestry).
- Wastewater: an ‘advanced’ wastewater treatment system is needed to replace the existing septic system. Since the Red Lion Diner was constructed in 1973, predating the 1979 Pinelands Protection Act, this is essentially offered as a compromise to grandfather the use of the lot over to the next owner. The Pinelands Commission considers a range of technologies that fall between a traditional septic system and a public sewer to be ‘advanced’. Several solutions were recently vetted by the Pinelands Commission to test their real-world performance in the context of the Pinelands (read more on their website).
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