Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let's Evaluate the Highlands Thoroughly

I like the environment. I value preserving our resources. I drive a hybrid car, drink organic milk, have helped clean out tires from the Rockaway River and have a wife who grows all our summer vegetables herself. There are important steps everyone must take. But I am also cautious and wary of our State's regulations and bureaucracy. Denville and many other surrounding areas in New Jersey will be faced with an important decision over the next few years; How to protect our water supply and make the appropriate planning for it? Many municipalities will decide on whether to opt into a regional plan (The Highlands Regional Master Plan)

At first glance, there are great aspects of this regional plan like stricter ordinances to protect our waters and environment, reduced affordable housing requirements and more. However, there are also many aspects of the plan in question like the compensation for properties affected by this plan, how it affects our planned recreational fields, the loss of local planning control, how individual towns will be properly represented and the status of affordable housing requirements in New Jersey. With a new Governor, we have see many indications of vast change in the Garden State.

Last November, Denville's Town Council, with three exiting Councilman, approved a resolution to submit a petition for plan conformance to the Highlands Council. This was approved at a meeting held in the midst of the holiday season with very little public attendance. At the time I was a Councilman-Elect and with all due respect to the Council, I was disappointed they approved that resolution. Although, it did not obligate us to the Highlands Plan, I felt we should be noncommittal until knowing more.

The decision to "opt in" or "opt out" of the Highlands Regional Master plan will be a difficult one and will take some serious time and research. At a recent Denville Town Council Workshop on the subject, Denville residents and the Town Council had a long and productive exchange of views and questions on the subject. Probably one of the best Council meetings I have seen in 3 years. Nearly everyone in the audience spoke with poignant and cordial views on the matter. This reinforces that we should be cautious with our approach. When a resolution to rescind the previous November resolution was introduced, I approved it. Not because of who was voting for it or to make a statement but because it was the right thing to do. The resolution to rescind the previous resolution was approved 5-2.

Despite the vote to rescind, I vow to push our Council to re-look at our existing ordinances and how they can be revised to reflect the protective benefits of the Highlands plan. I also believe we need to encourage our Planning Board and Board of Adjustment to be vigilant with enforcing them. I look forward to having representatives from the actual Highlands Council, not just a lobbying coalition, continue to work with us and educate us on their plans, changes and ideas so we can make an educated decision on the matter. And most importantly, I encourage the public to become involved in the process. To those who favor the plan; don't be so quick to accept it because there is still a lot to be mapped out. To those already against the plan; before you judge, let's hear more about it first.

I am not interested in making a quick decision then working and researching to support and justify it. I'd rather be cautious, objective and open so we make the right decision based on all the facts. We have time to carefully evaluate the Highlands Master Plan and I will. I hope you will as well.