If You Are a Homeowner in the Highlands Planning Area
- You should have some enhanced opportunities for outdoor recreation and contemplation of wildlife, although the mere preservation of open space does not guarantee that it will be maintained or made accessible to the public.
- Your local zoning and planning boards will continue to be the ultimate authority over what you can do with your own property and lot. The Highlands Council's recommendations will be advisory, and the new DEP regulations specified under this bill will not apply in your area.
- If you own your own home on a small lot that cannot feasibly be subdivided, the effect of the bill on the value of your home is uncertain. Your local government could decide to create a "receiving zone" for Highlands development, meaning that more housing units would be built in a portion of your town than are provided for under current zoning. Whether this will be good or bad for your tax bill and property values will depend on a number of factors, including where your home is located relative to the receiving zone (and sending zones for that matter), whether the extra development will be profitable to your community in fiscal terms, whether the new development is well designed, the existing character and function of your town (bedroom community, job center, etc.), and what all the other municipalities in the planning area decide to do under the new regime.
Help! What should I do about all of this uncertainty?
- Just do what you would normally do. Be an active participant in your local government on all matters related to land use and specific development projects. Understand, however, that the Highlands bill tries to enforce a regional vision, and you may derive benefits or costs from features of the plan that affect places quite distant from your home. This means that the standard arguments made in local development hearings, which are based on strictly local--even neighborhood--considerations, might be invalid. For example, if no municipality in the planning area agreed to create receiving zones, housing prices would rise, and the region's economy could suffer. The TDR program would run short of funds, with political repercussions that might affect you at the municipal or county level. In addition to being a citizen of your neighborhood and your town, think about participating as a citizen of your region, and make decisions on that basis as well. One good way to do that would be to attend meetings of the new Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council. This body should not only be able to articulate regional costs and benefits of the Highlands plan, it has land use powers that will affect you no matter where in the Highlands region you live.