- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - The Pinelands Commission has released an in-depth report on 11 years of its recent efforts, and it showed the agency’s work has funneled growth outside of preservation areas and greatly increased preserved lands.

About half of the 938,000 acres in the state-designated Pinelands Area in seven counties of South Jersey are now permanently preserved, the commission’s Chief Planner Susan Grogan said. She was one of several speakers on the agency’s fourth Plan Review Report at the commission’s regular meeting on Friday.

The report said 94 percent of the preserved land is located within conservation areas the commission is charged with protecting. They are the Preservation Area District, Special Agricultural Production Area, Forest Area and Agricultural Production Area.

The report covers July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2012. Reviews are required by law, to gauge how effective the commission’s Comprehensive Management Plan has been in governing land use, development and natural resource protection. Other reviews were done in 2002, 1992 and 1983.

The Press of Atlantic City (https://bit.ly/ZUxCEe) says about 97 percent of all residential units approved in the report period, and 87 percent of approved nonresidential developments, were in Regional Growth Areas, Towns, Villages and Rural Development Areas.

“The report shows the plan is working. Growth is going to where it’s supposed to go,” said commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg.

The commission amended the CMP 19 times during the period, including a 2004 change that established fees for review of development applications and a 2007 change that started the Pinelands Conservation Fund.

The PCF was funded through eight Memorandums of Agreement with public entities, whose projects deviated from strict CMP rules but were of substantial public benefit, such as new electrical transmission lines to serve South Jersey. They made payments to the PCF to offset environmental damage elsewhere.

In the report period, the PCF allocated $9.6 million to 34 preservation projects, and 31 were finalized, the report said. As a result, 6,763 acres were preserved, the report said.

In addition, the Pinelands Development Credit Program preserved about 24,000 acres during the report period, bringing the total amount of land protected through deed restriction to 51,685 acres, the report said.

A 2009 amendment required municipalities to prevent sprawl through requiring clustering in their zoning ordinances for Forest Areas and Rural Development Areas, with residential development clustered on one-acre lots, and open space created and permanently protected through deed restriction.

A 2002 amendment created the Alternate Design Wastewater Treatment Systems Pilot Program to find new technologies that can cleanse household wastewater to high standards on residential lots smaller than 3.2 acres, which are too small for conventional septic fields. It has identified two systems permitted for one-acre lots, and continues to study new technologies.

The report is also a look forward, Wittenberg said.

She said the commission took input from public hearings and from written comments from 109 groups or individuals. Many of their ideas have become goals for the next five years.

Ideas to be explored are: streamlining application procedures; clarifying the use and monitoring of Memoranda of Agreement; exempting reports that include locations of threatened and endangered species from OPRA requirements; improving oversight of off-road vehicle events; and developing rules for digital signs, which are now universally banned in the Pinelands.

The report also outlines the work of the commission’s science department, its public outreach and education programs, and its economic monitoring program.

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Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), https://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

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