Implementing Planned Development: The Case of New Jersey


Over the last thirty years, states have gradually turned to land use regulations in an effort to address the environmental and economic effects of suburban and exurban development. Policymakers, politicians, and voters increasingly understand that land usage is intricately and inextricably tied to improving air quality, limiting traffic congestion, and preserving water resources. More and more, these groups are learning that sprawl and inappropriate development are more than just abstract concepts, and that rapacious construction can destroy the very fabric of both communities and their local environment. As such, implementing effective limits on development has become a necessary component of state and local environmental policies. The “anti-sprawl” movement can be described as an effort to force reconceptualization of the relationship between environmental and land use policy, so that urban blight and environmental degradation are more appropriately addressed in tandem. A wide array of current state and federal legislation is described as “anti-sprawl”; indeed, there is no generally accepted definition of the term “sprawl.” Arguably, the term has been used to describe any development that the user of the term finds aesthetically unpleasing. Generally, however, sprawl refers to low-density developments on the fringes of developed areas where there is no centralized planning or land use regulation. Anti-sprawl policies aim either to halt development in areas susceptible to sprawl or, more conservatively, to enforce urban planning schemes so that development occurs in an orderly and sustainable fashion. Either iteration necessitates the imposition of limitations and constraints on both development rights and the ability of local governments to govern land use. Constraining local governments’ ability to govern land use is an important component of state and regional policies. This is particularly true where statewide and local needs and preferences differ with respect to the use of land. In such cases, in order to achieve the land use goals that meet state or regional needs and protect the communities’ environment and character, the state must impose its own goals on local control of land use. There is good reason to suspect that state and local needs will differ. First, it is unlikely that municipalities account for the effect of externalities on neighboring areas resulting from their land use choices. Externalities might include traffic congestion, air pollution and water pollution. Second, policies dictated by the need to raise property tax revenues will oftentimes run counter to the goals of land and natural resource conservation. Because property taxes fund local governments’ most costly expense, public education, a locality’s commitment to conservation may be compromised by its fiscal needs. It is important, therefore, to consider the way that statewide land use policies inform or compel local policymaking. The legal, scientific, aesthetic and political choices made by planners are well beyond the scope of this article. I will instead attempt to describe legislative and regulatory efforts to enforce the restrictions on land use embodied by statewide and regional planning. How do so-called “anti-sprawl” policies create incentives for the major players in land use-local governments and developers-to plan development or to abide by state and regional plans? Even the most forward-looking, sophisticated planning techniques will be of little use where local and state legislation and regulations fail to execute the resulting plan. New Jersey provides a pertinent example of regulatory failures, and I will chart not only the difficulties that a state encounters, but also how these can be overcome in part, and how the remaining impasse might best be addressed. The first part of this article provides a framework for understanding enforcement of land use policies and describes the regulatory and legislative options from which jurisdictions have selected land use tools. Part II explains the utility of using New Jersey as a case study for the examination of anti-sprawl enforcement techniques. Part III describes and evaluates past efforts to enforce statewide planning in New Jersey. Part IV examines the current politics of sprawl in New Jersey and the resulting legislative and regulatory efforts to constrain unplanned development and growth. I will conclude by applying the framework established in part I to evaluate proposed development management efforts in New Jersey.

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