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Highlands Regional Master Plan

WHEREAS, the Highlands Act, signed into law in August 2004, divided the 850,000-acre Highlands region into two areas: a preservation area, where development would be strictly regulated, and a planning area, where development would be monitored; and established a Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council charged to prepare and implement a regional master plan for the entire Highlands region; and

WHEREAS, with lessons learned by the agricultural community in the Pinelands, the Highlands law included significant relief for agricultural and horticultural activities and related development in the preservation area, and as a result, agricultural development and activities in the preservation area are part of a separate process from the strict regulations that are imposed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection upon “major development” (defined as one-quarter acre of impervious cover or one acre of any soil disturbance) in the preservation area; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture developed and adopted rules to implement the separate process for agricultural development and activities in the Highlands Preservation Area; and

WHEREAS, 450 farms covering 37,153 acres of farmland had been preserved in the Highlands region as of December 31, 2012 – 193 farms covering 15,320 acres in the Preservation Area and 257 farms covering 21,833 acres in the Planning Area; and

WHEREAS, the Highlands Development Credit Bank Board has made offers to purchase credits from 17 landowners meeting the hardship criteria since the initial HDC purchase program was established in September 2009, and of those, 10 landowners’ credits were purchased, three landowners chose not to proceed and credits purchases for four landowners are pending; and

WHEREAS, of the 60 towns and five counties to apply for Highlands Regional Master Plan conformance review, 35 municipalities – amounting to 361,617 acres – and four counties have received approval from the Highlands Council for their conformance plans. 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 98th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on February 6-7, 2013, strongly support the establishment of a dedicated funding source for farmland preservation efforts in the Highlands region.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage the Department to continue to monitor and contribute to the future implementation of the Highlands TDR program and Plan Conformance process in order to maximize program success and provide equity protection for affected landowners.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the TDR Conservation Restriction developed in coordination with the Department and the Highlands Development Credit Bank Board and approved by the Highlands Council.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that with the transfer of $10 million from the State TDR Bank to the Highlands Development Credit (HDC) Bank, we strongly urge that the HDC Bank be funded through an alternative funding source in the future. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage the continued coordination between the State TDR Bank and the HDC Bank Board to further the implementation of TDR programs in the Highlands and statewide.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we continue to support the Legislature’s extension of the dual appraisal valuation process to June 30, 2014 for farms in the Highlands region, which allows appraisals for farmland preservation acquisitions in the Highlands to be based on either current zoning and environmental laws and regulations or those in effect as of January 1, 2004 – whichever yields the higher value.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly urge the Governor, Senate President and Assembly Speaker to consider the agricultural background, knowledge and/or experience of any new potential Highlands Council members, as well as their residency, to ensure that farmers in the preservation area – who are most directly affected by the RMP – have additional representation on the Council.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage the Governor to do a complete independent review of the Highlands Act and its programs as to its effect on the Highlands Region municipalities, economy and agricultural viability.