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The Highlands Planning Council and Its Powers

  1. The Highlands bill establishes a 15-member "Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council" to develop a regional master plan and implementing regulations (e.g., minimum lot sizes) for the Highlands Region. [§4,5]

    1. The Council includes public officials and citizens from the Highlands region, as well as representation from both major political parties.

    2. The Governor can veto any action of this council.

    3. Any municipality or county located wholly or partly in the preservation area must revise its master plan and zoning to conform to the planning council's regional plan, at least in that portion of the town that is in the preservation area. [§14]

    4. For municipalities and counties in the planning area, conformance of master plans and zoning regulations to the regional plan is voluntary. The bill provides incentives for such conformance.

    5. Municipalities in the planning area would continue to participate in the "plan endorsement process" of the New Jersey State Planning Commission. This process encourages, but does not require, conformance with the New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan.

    6. Municipalities in the preservation area would no longer deal with the State Planning Commission, only with the new Highlands Planning Council.

  2. The Highlands bill instructs the Highlands Planning Council to identify zones within the preservation area where "development shall not occur." Lands in these zones will be "permanently preserved through use of a variety of tools." [§12, ¶a]

  3. The Highlands bill gives the Highlands Planning Council limited authority to review and accept or reject building projects. [§16,17]

    1. The Council will have the right to review both public and private development projects that disturb two acres of land or lead to a cumulative increase in impervious surface of one acre or more [§16,17]

      1. In the preservation area, these projects cannot proceed without Council approval.

      2. In the planning area, the Council's decision on government projects is nonbinding. (Council review of private sector projects in the planning area is not discussed.)

      3. Review of private sector projects in the preservation area will not commence until the Council has adopted its own master plan. Once the plan is in place, the Council may elect to review development applications to ensure that local government approvals are consistent with the regional master plan and the broader goals of this bill.