The Appellate Division Reconfirms The Process For A Municipality To Voluntarily Conform To A Highlands Region Planning Area

August 19, 2013 | No Comments
Posted by Afiyfa H. Ellington

On August 7, 2013, the Appellate Division recently addressed when a municipality must comply with the regulatory framework of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (“Act”) N.J.S.A. 13:20-1 to -35, when it elects to join the Highlands Region planning areas and the interplay in the municipality amending their land use ordinance in In re State of New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council-February 28, 2012 Decision, Docket No. A-3174-11T3 (App. Div. Aug. 7, 2013).  Under the Act, the Council is charged with preparing a regional master plan (RMP), including a plan providing a resource assessment that determines sustainable development for the Highlands Region.  N.J.S.A. 13:20-8.  The Council adopted the RMP in 2008.  The Council provides technical and financial benefits to municipalities that conform their local master plan to the RMP.  The Act requires a plan conformance process for municipalities in the Highlands Region to comply with in order to implement the necessary parts of the RMP and receive the respective benefits.

The Act recognizes that in a municipality partially located in a planning area, conformance is voluntary.  N.J.S.A. 13:20-14, -15.  The Council adopted the Plan Conformance Guidelines in 2008.  (“Conformance Guidelines”).  The Conformance Guidelines define the process for conformance in the planning area.  A municipality may voluntarily submit a notice of intent by passing a formal resolution.  The notice of intent is non-binding for planning area.  Thereafter the municipality submits its petition which includes proposed changes to the municipality’s land use plan.  Thereafter, the Highland Council reviews the petition and may reject or approve it subject to conditions.  Then, the municipality must pass an ordinance formally petitioning the Council of its intention to revise its master plan and development regulations to conform to the goals, requirements and provisions of the RMP.  N.J.S.A.13:20-15a(1).  According to the Highlands Council, it will provide a municipality with the Council’s preliminary assessment of how plan conformance would affect the planning area, prior to the municipality binding itself to conform.  Thereafter, the municipality can decide whether to continue to conform into the planning area.  If the municipality decides to conform, it is implicit that it would remain in compliance with the RMP in order to receive financial and technical incentives.

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