Policy Notes: August 2023
Another seat on the Commission sits empty…
‘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 YehSeptember 11, 2023
Another Seat on the Commission Sits Empty…
With the recent passing of Edward Lloyd—who has served on the Pinelands Commission since 2002—three of the seven gubernatorial seats on the Commission are currently unoccupied. Whereas county seats can be quickly filled by county commissioners (for example, the speedy replacement of Jane Jannarone within a month of her resignation by Nicholas Asselta), the process for getting the Governor’s picks on the Commission is more complicated.
First, the Governor needs to make the actual nomination—but these kinds of decisions have been slow coming from the Murphy administration. Then, the Senate judiciary committee of the NJ legislature needs to vote on whether to confirm this nominee.
Simply getting to the point of a hearing by this committee can be a prolonged affair. The last round of nominations for two seats was made in September 2022. The first, former NJDEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello, was able to breeze through the confirmation process to be seated on the Commission within two months.
However, confirmation of the other still-pending nominee, Dr. Jessica Sanchez, has yet to be completed, as it was initially held up by senatorial courtesy. Now her nomination is simply delayed by bad timing and the slow pace at which the NJ legislature operates: as the spring budget season gave way to summer recess, which is now transitioning into fall election season, the legislature has been too distracted to work through the committee’s backlog of nominations.
Despite these complications, there is no reason that Governor Murphy should continue to delay announcing two additional nominees to fill the seats that have been vacated this year. The strongest advocates for the environment on the Commission tend to be gubernatorial appointees; leaving seats vacant on the Pinelands Commission is an abdication of the influence that the Governor is supposed to have in the Pinelands.
PPA has made recommendations for individuals that we believe would be good additions to the Commission, but the ball is in Governor Murphy’s court to actually make the nominations.
Revisiting the Concept of Redevelopment
A lively discussion ensued when yet another proposal came before the Commission for the ‘redevelopment’ of a property that had never actually been developed before. Projects that are labeled as ‘redevelopment’ are not judged any differently from standard development proposals; each needs to be deemed ‘consistent’ with the standards of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Despite this separation, this remains a hot topic at the Pinelands Commission.
Commissioner Irick reiterated his discomfort with the liberal use of the word ‘redevelopment’ to describe these kinds of developments, and wondered if additional requirements could be made of developers, such as mandating solar panels on new developments.
Multiple public commenters joined in on the conversation; one pointed out that this is more than just a matter of semantics, as redevelopment deals often come with perks for developers like PILOT agreements, which he said made these deals unfair to existing homeowners/taxpayers in a given town.
Fred Akers, from the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, reflected on how the use of redevelopment has changed over the years; at its inception, ‘redevelopment’ was established as part of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) to incentivize the redevelopment of old, derelict buildings into something beneficial for the town. In recent years, its use in South Jersey has transformed to become a mechanism by which developers can circumvent certain aspects of the usual municipal planning processes.
[Fiscal] New Year’s Resolutions:
August’s CMP Policy & Implementation Committee meeting was the first to occur since the beginning of the state’s fiscal year, so the staff presented their reflections on the accomplishments of the past year and their work goals for the year to come. On top of their core regulatory functions that revolve around development applications and staffing Commission meetings, Commission staff are responsible for running various programs and drafting changes to the Pinelands CMP. Although big-ticket items like the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer amendments are slow-coming, many smaller projects form an impressive body of work that advance the mission of the Commission in small increments.
Black Run Watershed
A plan to protect the Black Run Watershed in Evesham has been in the works for decades now, and a proposal for CMP amendments towards this end is on the horizon. Given the lack of any official proposal from the Pinelands Commission, the only information that we have to go off of at the moment is a broad overview that was presented at the April 28 meeting of the Pinelands Commission’s CMP Policy & Implementation Committee (you can view the Black Run Proposal discussion recording on YouTube or view the slides in the meeting minutes). Although a proposal had been projected to be made by this point in the year, progress on the Black Run amendment has been held up by delays in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer protection amendments.
Pinelands Municipal Council Watch
Months Since the Council Last Met: 11
The Pinelands Municipal Council (PMC) is expected to resume meetings in the near future. ED Grogan projects that official meeting details may be available by the next meeting of the Pinelands Commission on 9/8/2023 (apparently, this is also when we may learn the fate of the Leisuretowne switchbox).
The PMC is responsible for uniting leaders of various townships to discuss environmental concerns and enact plans for improvement. The council has not met since September 2022. The PPA hopes to bring this council back and increase its efficiency and strength; you can read a previous blog post for more background on the situation.
What we’re hearing from residents:
A world-renowned disc golf course is slated to be removed from the Stafford Woods in Vorhees Township. This removal was suddenly ordered by NJDEP after 11 years of the disc golf course raising no significant issues during regular inspections of the property by NJDEP staff. The change in NJDEP’s stance on the property was precipitated by a re-reading of the deed restrictions on this particular property; although disc golf is allowed on most other Green Acres properties, the funding mechanism that was used to preserve this particular property places severe restrictions on allowable uses. Although the owner of the neighboring Vineyard and leaders of the disc golfers recently declared a truce, it may be hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. The two parties have resolved to work together and find a way to make things work; now the ball is in NJDEP’s court to find a resolution to the legal and financial issues that this situation has brought to light. There is likely room for compromise, in which the recreational uses can co-exist with the environmental purpose of these public lands, but a Green Acres diversion will likely be needed to resolve the conflict.
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