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NYTimes.com Article: War on Sprawl in New Jersey Hits a Wall

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    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 21, 2003
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      War on Sprawl in New Jersey Hits a Wall

      October 21, 2003

      TRENTON, Oct. 20 - Nine months after Gov. James E.
      McGreevey promised to wage the nation's toughest
      anti-sprawl campaign in its most crowded state, his bold
      growth-control proposals are all but in tatters.

      The governor and his staff conceded in recent interviews
      that a divided Legislature and opposition from builders
      made it pointless to introduce the most far-reaching
      anti-sprawl laws he outlined in a fiery State of the State
      address in January, when he vowed to take on "those who
      profit from the strip malls and McMansions."

      Instead, Mr. McGreevey, a Democrat in his first term as
      governor, will focus on less controversial legislative and
      regulatory changes.

      And on Friday, the administration abandoned the BIG map,
      for Blueprint for Intelligent Growth, which had divided the
      state into areas open for more growth, some growth and no
      growth. Those elements will be absorbed into another plan,
      officials said.

      Controlling sprawl in New Jersey is a universally popular
      idea in the abstract but becomes politically fraught when
      it comes to telling builders where to build, towns how to
      zone, and residents where they can live.

      "Everyone's against sprawl, but the problem is they also
      live in it," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra
      Club's New Jersey chapter. "It's sort of like being in
      traffic, where it's the guy next to me who is the problem,
      not me."

      Besides Mr. McGreevey's largely abandoned legislative
      agenda, the BIG map represented an effort to create a
      statewide development plan, with regions delineated in
      green, yellow and red to designate areas for growth, little
      growth and no growth.

      On the Department of Environmental Protection's anti-sprawl
      Web site on Monday, a message read in part, "To avoid
      confusion and misinterpretations, while further revisions
      are considered, the BIG map has been removed."

      The New Jersey Builders Association, the governor's
      strongest opponent in his growth management campaign, liked
      to call the abandoned BIG map the Big Red Map, after the
      large areas that it placed off-limits.

      "The D.E.P.'s inconsistency regarding the Big Red Map is
      symptomatic of the broader disarray that characterizes the
      administration's policies with respect to planning for New
      Jersey's future and the housing needs of its families,"
      said Patrick J. O'Keefe, chief executive of the builders'

      But Bradley M. Campbell, the commissioner of environmental
      protection, defended the decision and said the governor was
      not retreating from his campaign to manage growth.

      "This is not a retreat at all," Mr. Campbell said in an
      interview. "In fact, it is another step forward we are

      Mr. Campbell said the BIG map's environmental protection
      data on endangered species and watershed protection areas
      would be incorporated in the 11-year state plan, which
      spells out growth management objectives on a
      county-by-county basis.

      "This was our stated objective from the outset," Mr.
      Campbell said. "That message was simply drowned out by the
      builders, but we achieved what we said we were going to do
      all along. The builders just spent the last nine months on
      what really has been a red herring."

      The governor's legislative agenda, spelled out in January
      and again in March, has less of a future, at least for now,
      officials said.

      In his earlier speeches, Mr. McGreevey said he would
      introduce new land-use laws to let municipalities charge
      builders for even the cost of their construction away from
      the site, on school capacity and roads.

      Another law was to give municipalities the power to block
      developments that they deemed did not meet local long-term
      goals for traffic.

      Yet another widely discussed notion was to allow towns to
      spread out development over long periods, to reduce the
      impact of sudden population growth on schools, roads and

      "We're not talking about that anymore," a staff member

      All that remains of Mr. McGreevey's legislative agenda are
      a noncontroversial proposal to help farmers sell
      development rights, giving the developer who pays for them
      a bigger project somewhere else, and possibly one allowing
      towns to charge developers additional fees.

      These proposals will probably be introduced in January,
      when the Legislature returns after next month's elections
      for a lame-duck session, the governor said last week.

      Mr. McGreevey's policies have had some significant impacts.

      He has used his environmental regulatory powers to close
      7,865 acres around reservoirs to development, and to impose
      buffers along 69 miles of rivers and streams.

      Mr. McGreevey also won legislative approval of three public
      referendum questions for the Nov. 4 election. One would
      increase state borrowing to buy open space, another would
      help pay to clean up polluted industrial sites for
      redevelopment, and a third would speed up repairs of public
      parks, waterways and dams.

      In pressing to go beyond these measures, however, the
      governor encountered considerable resistance.

      "We spent two or three months working with the stakeholders
      for a consensus, and we couldn't get an agreement," a
      McGreevey official concerned with land-use issues said on
      the condition of anonymity. "Second, the Legislature has no
      appetite for this. Zero."

      The Legislature's reluctance to take on far-reaching
      changes in land-use laws in an election year, when builders
      contribute heavily to campaigns, has left the governor's
      staff members with sour feelings toward the lawmakers.

      "I don't think anyone was under any illusion that the
      Legislature was not and is not under the thrall of the
      builders' lobby to a large extent," a different McGreevey
      official said, also on the condition of anonymity.

      But many legislators maintain that Mr. McGreevey oversold
      his anti-sprawl campaign, and particularly erred in
      singling out developers for public criticism in his State
      of the State address. The builders' association played his
      speech over and over on television monitors at its Atlantic
      City convention shortly afterward.

      "I think the governor probably went too far in the State of
      the State to demonize home builders and office park
      builders, as if they were somehow the cause of our problems
      here in New Jersey," said State Senator John H. Adler, a
      Cherry Hill Democrat. "I think he was trying to galvanize
      public support, but I think his rhetoric got a little bit
      ahead of him."

      The governor, in an interview last week, seemed to agree.

      "Maybe the rhetoric got a little overheated," Mr. McGreevey
      said, "but we had to motivate people for change."



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