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Policy Directive 2003-04 - Open Space Preservation and Recreation Priority Reform

This memorandum will direct the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres Program (Green Acres) to adopt and implement the following new initiatives and policies.

  1. Parks for People:
  2. The Green Acres Program will focus on providing recreation lands, urban wildlife preserves, and quality open spaces in our cities, suburbs, and other developed communities throughout New Jersey. Open space and attractive recreational facilities in these areas will improve the quality of life for residents and visitors and will help create an environment where people will want to live and work. It will also promote the State's Smart Growth Efforts.

    State Land Acquisition Program
  • Green Acres shall assist the Division of Parks and Forestry in creating two new State Parks.
  • Green Acres shall use State Land Acquisition funds to purchase lands in cities, where appropriate, and transfer development and management responsibility for those properties to the cities, counties, or other appropriate managers. This effort will relieve overburdened cities from having to commit limited resources and staff time to accomplish these acquisition projects.
  • Green Acres shall spend as much as possible of the 20 percent set-aside for "urbanized counties" on land in the more densely developed areas of counties that meet the 1,000 people per square mile criterion established in the Garden State Preservation Trust Act.

    Local Government Program
  • Green Acres shall increase funding for cities, county governments, and nonprofit organizations working to provide recreational lands for residents in cities and older densely developed suburban communities. This will advance the Administration's goal of putting parks where the people are. Green Acres shall establish a category of "Densely Populated Municipalities" based on population of at least 35,000, or population density greater than 5,000 people per square mile. This increase in funding will be derived through the application of a multiplier that recognizes a municipality or county's population data. For example, the next set of recommendations to the Garden State Preservation Trust will reflect the following factors, assuming that a "base award" will be presented to those municipal and county sponsors outside of the population centers:
    • County sponsors -

      • More than 5,000 people per square mile - 3x base award,
      • More than 1,000 people per square mile - 2.5x base award,
      • Less than 1,000 people per square mile- 2x base award.
    • Municipal sponsors-

      • Urban Aid Communities - 2x base award
      • Densely Populated Municipalities- 1.5x base award
      • All others receive the base award
    The multiplication factors and base award may be adjusted in future funding round(s) based on total requests, funding availability, and project priorities.
  • Green Acres shall recommend to the Garden State Preservation Trust the approval of partial grants and/or zero-interest loans to Densely Populated Municipalities seeking funding to develop recreational facilities. Currently, non-Urban Aid development projects do not qualify for grant funding; they only receive loans at 2% interest.
  • Green Acres shall recommend to the Garden State Preservation Trust an increase in grant ratios from 50 percent to 75 percent of a project cost, subject to a cap, for park development projects in Urban Aid municipalities designed as a component of an overall urban redevelopment plan.
  • Green Acres shall offer zero-interest loans to supplement grant funding for park development projects in Urban Aid municipalities, when loan funding is available.
  • Green Acres shall launch a pilot challenge grant category to assist Urban Aid municipalities with park stewardship. Green Acres shall increase Green Acres' grant portion of a project to 75 percent, if the Urban Aid sponsor provides a match of 50 percent of the project cost. In this way, a park will be developed and the city will use its remaining 25 percent to establish an endowment or purchase an annuity specifically for the park's operation, supervision, and maintenance.
  • Green Acres shall eliminate funding caps for demolition of structures to create open space for acquisition projects in Urban Aid Municipalities. The current cap for demolition funding related to acquisition projects is 10 percent or $100,000 of the cost of the land. This cap will remain for those projects in all other municipalities.
  • Green Acres shall provide incentives in priority ranking for projects planned in under served communities, as identified by the Department's Office of Environmental Justice.
  • Green Acres shall provide incentives in priority ranking for park development projects that are part of the Abbott School construction initiative, ensuring that urban students have adequate public outdoor space to help meet their physical, social, and educational needs.
  • Green Acres shall coordinate with the Department's Site Remediation Program, Office of Brownfields Reuse, conservation groups, and economic development advocates to reclaim former brownfields sites. Green Acres will encourage local applicants to apply for Green Acres funding for open space components of brownfields redevelopment projects, and for sites that will be entirely converted to public recreation uses.

  1. Water resources and natural resource protection:
  2. Natural resource protection, particularly water resource protection, will be a main focus area for the expenditure of State Land Acquisition funds and will be given greater consideration under the Local Assistance Program priority system.

  4. Green Acres shall focus State Land Acquisition efforts to prioritize the purchase of parcels that protect the State's water resources. The Green Acres Program will develop a new priority ranking system that triples the priority value for water quality and water supply protection and doubles the priority value of those lands that will protect flood prone areas, consistent with P.L. 2002 c. 76. Green Acres will proactively seek offers for lands that protect headwaters; Category 1 streams and buffers; watershed and reservoir lands; aquifer recharge areas; potable wells; riparian buffers; and significant acreage adjacent to existing State parks, forests, wildlife management areas, municipal and county parks, land owned and preserved by nonprofit land conservancies, and other similar lands. These acquisitions will also serve to protect many of our State's forested lands, wetlands and critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.
  6. Green Acres shall prioritize the purchase of sites where high quality endangered or threatened species habitat exists independent of water resource protection. The priority ranking system will allow for such sites to also be prioritized for protection of these critical natural resources.
  8. Green Acres shall prioritize the acquisition of the State's natural resources such as forested lands, environmentally sensitive lands, and habitat that supports significant plant and animal communities, over farmland acquisition. Green Acres shall provide technical assistance and guide and encourage the local governments and nonprofit organizations to pursue similar projects.
  10. Green Acres shall use the GIS mapping process developed specifically to identify these resources, ensuring cross-program mapping consistency with departmental preservation area goals.

  1. Diversions and Disposals of Parkland:
  2. It is the policy of this administration to implement more stringent measures to protect all Green Acres-encumbered parkland from being disposed of or diverted to non-recreation/conservation purposes.

  4. Green Acres shall alert local governments, and nonprofit organizations of their responsibility to notify the Department of, and obtain approvals as appropriate for, any anticipated changes in the use or ownership of parkland, whether directly assisted or inventoried. In particular, the Program must reduce the number of diversions and disposals and eliminate encroachments by adjacent landowners. To accomplish these objectives, Green Acres staff will send out regular notices to all municipal and county clerks outlining their responsibilities, and will publish official notices in regional media outlets. Green Acres will also undertake efforts to educate other State agencies, particularly the Departments of Education and Transportation, of the restrictions and requirements that apply when Green Acres-encumbered lands are targeted for State assisted projects such as schools and roads.
  6. Green Acres shall seek the statutory authority to levy fees for the diversion/disposal application review process and penalties for violations of the Green Acres funding agreements or rules.
  8. Green Acres shall create a more stringent "public purpose" threshold for diversion or disposal applications. Diversion or disposal applications should only be considered when there is a compelling public need for the diversion or disposal of public lands or a significant public benefit would result. Green Acres staff will clarify and strengthen the public purpose requirement as part of the upcoming amendment of the Green Acres rules. In some cases, the "public purpose" criteria may be satisfied by an overwhelming and extraordinary replacement opportunity, including acquisition of significant replacement acreage that will strengthen protection of the State's, natural, recreational or historic resources.
  10. Green Acres shall require "scoping" hearings for diversion/disposal applications so that the public is informed - as early in the process as possible - that Green Acres-encumbered lands are proposed to be used for other than recreation and conservation purposes.
  12. Green Acres shall increase the ratio of replacement land to parkland proposed for disposal or diversion. Presently, the minimum replacement to diversion/disposal ratio is 1:1. Green Acres will develop a higher replacement land ratio for projects depending on the quality of the diversion parcel and the type of project proposed. Green Acres will also ensure that the ecological value of proposed replacement land exceeds the ecological value of land proposed for diversion or disposal, at the applicant's expense if necessary. Parks that provide services to significant populations must be replaced with recreation areas that serve the same, if not broader population.
  14. Green Acres shall improve the alternative sites analysis component of the diversion/disposal application. The Program may engage, at the applicant's expense, independent consultants to perform the alternative sites analysis for certain projects in order to ensure objectivity in this process.
  16. Green Acres shall incorporate into the Department's review of diversion or disposal applications decision-making criteria that address natural resources and water supply protection, "Big Map" and State Plan consistency, and other administration policy objectives, as applicable.
  18. Green Acres shall prohibit the use of dedicated open space tax (N.J.S.A. 40:12-15.1) funding for the purchase of replacement lands. Allowing this funding source to be used to replace other parkland results in a net loss of protected lands and of funding available to increase parkland holdings.
  20. Green Acres shall obtain notification from Department regulatory programs of all pre- application meetings and permit applications for projects proposed on lands owned by local governments. This will enable Green Acres to determine whether lands are encumbered prior to the issuance of any permits, and before the applicants invest in design and engineering.
  22. Green Acres shall establish a means for municipalities to actively promote interim public recreation activities on sites formally designated for future non-recreation/conservation development, consistent with municipal/county development and redevelopment plans adopted prior to receiving Green Acres funding. Given the Cedar Cove doctrine, implementing this policy may require additional statutory authority.
  24. Green Acres shall develop and implement an Internet-based system to allow public access to municipal and county Recreation and Open Space Inventories and information on pending applications for diversion or disposal of parkland.

  1. Other issues:
  3. Active farms offered to the State will be referred to the Department of Agriculture for consideration under the Farmland Preservation Program. When these farms are in an area of preservation concern for the Department, i.e. planned recreation trails, scenic easements, access to water bodies etc., Green Acres will pursue a partnership with the Farmland Preservation Program to accomplish the farmland preservation and provide the public with recreational opportunities.
  5. Farms offered to Green Acres that are within a State Land Acquisition project area, may be considered by the Program for entire purchase in fee or easement when these lands buffer existing holdings, provide meaningful public access and provide potential for future expansion of a recreation/conservation area.
  7. The purchase of lands currently protected through regulation and watershed moratorium shall generally be considered a lower priority for purchase than unprotected or unregulated lands, unless public access and management of these properties are of critical importance to the State. In determining the strategic value of buying these lands, Green Acres will consider the likelihood of regulatory changes or moratorium rescission, the potential for the current owner to alter the landscape, the cost/benefit of purchasing the land at the present time, and the lands' conservation and recreation benefits.
  9. The purchase of lands that are protected through permanent deed restrictions, easements, the severance of development rights, and other protective covenants will be a lower priority for acquisition unless public access and management of these properties are of critical importance to the State. When public access and management criteria qualify these protected lands for purchase, adequate funding must be available to ensure protection of other important lands in process that might otherwise be lost to other uses.
  11. Priority ranking consideration will be given to projects that are designed and constructed in accordance with "green building" principles to utilize renewable energy and maximize energy efficiency. Green Acres will consult with the Department's Office of Innovative Technology and Market Development to ensure that green building technologies and principles are applied, as appropriate.
  13. The DEP will discourage the use of State Land Acquisition funds to settle litigation related to federal, state, and local regulatory matters.
  15. Green Acres may discourage the purchase of lands with recently approved subdivisions and recent up zoning, from a cost/benefit perspective, unless public access to, and management of these properties are of critical importance to the State.
  17. Green Acres will give appropriate consideration to municipalities that ask the State to not acquire land within its borders, unless public access and management of specific lands are of critical importance to the State or if lands contain natural resources or critical habitat values that need to be protected. This provision will be applied recognizing the Department of Environmental Protection's statutory responsibility as the trustee of the State's natural resources.
    A town that requests a halt to State preservation efforts will be required to hold a public hearing to determine the public's support for such a request. The public comment will be considered in the decision making process.
  19. The Program will seek meaningful public access on all lands protected through conservation easements, and will heavily scrutinize easements that preclude or limit access for public use and enjoyment. In those cases where protection of a parcel is of critical importance, but public access is limited, Green Acres will reduce its funding participation appropriate to the level of public access.
  21. All easement purchases will contain language giving the State the right of first refusal to purchase the fee remainder when an owner considers sale of the eased property.
  23. Green Acres will establish a higher priority in its ranking criteria to further encourage the planting of shade trees on park development project sites to assist in the reduction of Greenhouse gases, particulate emissions, and energy consumption.
  25. The presence of hazardous substances or other contamination shall not preclude acquisition of parcels that may be appropriate for parks, recreation, or restoration as wildlife habitat or natural resource conservation areas. The acquisition of such parcels shall be coordinated with the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste to ensure appropriate measures to protect human health and the environment.
  27. Where land acquisition or conservation is proposed to resolve liability for natural resource damages (NRD), Green Acres shall assist and advise the office of Natural Resource Restoration in evaluating the merits of the proposal.

This policy shall be posted at Liberty State Park and made available to the public on the DEP web site.

Date: August 1, 2003 _________________
  Bradley M. Campbell

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: October 29, 2003