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July 31, 2003

Contact: Amy Cradic
(609) 984-1795

DEP Commissioner Campbell Announces New Green Acres Open Space Priorities:

Allocates Greater Funding for Densely Populated Communities; Targets Land Purchases to Protect Water Quality; Strengthens Long-Term Protection of Preserved Public Lands

(03/107) TRENTON – Supporting Governor McGreevey's commitment to smart growth, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell today announced new Green Acres open space acquisition and park development priorities that allocate greater funding for developed communities, protect the state's water resources and enact more stringent measures to safeguard existing Green Acres properties against pressures of development.

"The new Green Acres open space priorities enable us to make wiser property purchases by placing a greater emphasis on the quality not the quantity of land purchased in New Jersey," said Governor James E. McGreevey. "This more strategic approach to open space acquisitions bolsters my Administration's smart growth priorities and ultimately ensures that New Jersey's children grow up next to parks, not parking lots."

The top three priorities of DEP's new Green Acres policy include: the establishment of a Parks for People initiative that will increase grant and loan funding for local and county governments and nonprofit organizations to purchase recreational lands and develop parks in cities and older, densely developed suburban communities; greater state and local funding allocations focusing on open space that protects water resources and critical wildlife habitat; and more stringent measures to protect all Green Acres-encumbered parklands from being disposed of or diverted for non-recreation/conservation purposes.

Under the Parks for People initiative, additional state land acquisition funding will be allocated to urban areas. In addition, larger awards will be available as incentives for open space and park development projects undertaken in "Densely Populated Municipalities." These are defined as areas with populations of at least 35,000 or with population density greater than 5,000 people per square mile. A formula has been established that recognizes and rewards projects undertaken in more densely developed areas.

"For too long, municipalities faced the same rigid funding cap regardless of whether they had 8,000 residents or 800,000," Commissioner Campbell added. "This policy brings fairness to densely populated communities that have been shortchanged by Green Acres in the past."

Parks for People policy initiatives include:

  • An increase in grant ratios from 50 percent to 75 percent of a project cost for park development projects in Urban Aid municipalities that are designed as a part of an overall urban redevelopment plan.

  • A pilot challenge grant category to assist Urban Aid municipalities with park stewardship. Green Acres will 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. The city will use its remaining 25 percent to establish an endowment or purchase an annuity specifically for the newly developed park's operation, supervision, and maintenance.

  • The elimination of funding caps for demolition of structures to create open space for acquisition projects in Urban Aid Municipalities. The current cap for demolition funding is 10 percent or $100,000 of the cost of the land.

  • New incentives in priority ranking for park development projects that are part of the Abbott School construction initiative.

  • Greater collaboration between Green Acres and the DEP's Site Remediation Program, Office of Brownfield Reuse, conservation groups, and economic development advocates to reclaim former brownfields sites.

Placing high priority on the protection of critical natural resources, DEP's new open space policy directs Green Acres to prioritize land purchases that protect the state's water resources and critical plant and wildlife habitat. A new priority ranking system established through legislation (P.L. 2002 c.76) and signed by the Governor will be established 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. The ranking system also will provide for greater prioritization of lands with endangered or threatened species habitat independent of water resource protection. Green Acres will be more proactive in pursuing the purchase of high quality water resource-related lands.

To ensure the long-term protection of New Jersey's preserved open space and recreation lands, under its new open space policy the DEP will establish more stringent measures that prevent existing Green Acres-encumbered parkland from being disposed of or diverted to non-recreation/conservation purposes. These measures include:

  • An increase in the ratio of replacement land to parkland proposed for disposal or diversion. Presently, the minimum replacement to diversion/disposal ratio is one to one.
  • Rules that prohibit the use of dedicated open space tax funding for the purchase of replacement lands.
  • Required public hearings for diversion/disposal applications so that the public is informed - as early in the process as possible - that Green Acres-encumbered lands may be used for purposes other than recreation or conservation.

The DEP also will seek statutory authority to levy fines for the diversion/disposal application review process and penalties for violations of the Green Acres funding agreements and rules.

Other priorities outlined in the DEP's new Green Acres policy include the acquisition of two new state parks, a higher ranking criteria encouraging the planting of shade trees on park development project sites to assist in the reduction of Greenhouse gases, and a greater emphasis on ensuring meaningful public access on all lands protected through conservation easements.

In addition to the DEP's new Green Acres land acquisition priorities, New Jerseyans can impact open space policy in the state when they cast their votes on November 4, for a ballot proposition initiated by Governor McGreevey to provide an additional $150 million in open space and recreation funding. The Governor has committed to dedicating $75 million of this funding to establish or improve local parks, with another $75 million going to open space purchases in the Highlands.



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