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New Strategic Growth Plan for Sussex County

Release Date: October 16, 2007
Farms, forests, and healthy economic growth provided within robust Villages, Hamlets, or Town Centers is the Community's Vision for the Future of Sussex County. The new Strategic Growth Plan directs future development patters in the County to preserve its rural character and improve quality of life.

Strategic Growth Plan

Sussex County, with its farms, rolling hills, valleys, forests, and lack of expressways, is a breath of fresh air for the region. We are fortunate to be in such a natural area, yet have easy access to one of the greatest cities in the world. But to many who have lived here a long time, we have also seen degradation-too much of our natural environment converting to asphalt, concrete, and the same building styles that are proliferating in virtually every congested suburb in America. Is "urban sprawl" really necessary for growth and the economy? Do we need to suffer more traffic congestion and mourn the loss of open space every time land is developed?

Things were not always this way. There was a time when new stores and houses were mostly welcomed and desired. This was in the days when city streets were arranged in a parallel "grid" pattern. Any new streets were connected to the existing "grid" of streets at multiple points by the City Engineer, which created more options for travel. New buildings had ornate and distinctive facades, since they were located near the street. Small, individually developed lots produced a blend of unique architectures and land uses which added to the aesthetics and vitality of the community. Housing, services, and amenities were accessible by foot, so they appealed to people of various ages and incomes. Lastly, with development focused in the cities, vast private lands remained as wilderness or fields. This is a short description of major advantages for having new development occur in city, town, and village Centers.

Today, the notion of new development in our towns being mostly desirable is often foreign to us. A significant reason is because urban planning, design, and engineering became biased towards accomodating the automobile-to the point that new buildings are more isolated, parking lots are big enough to make walking impractical, more natural scenery is lost, and traffic congestion is exploding. However, these problems can be avoided by combining new planning tools with traditional principles of community growth. The base document for this solution is the new Strategic Growth Plan for Sussex County.

Writing the Strategic Growth Plan (SGP) was a truly public effort involving meetings with municipalities, the State Planning Commission and Office of Smart Growth, a 19 member Strategic Growth Advisory Committee (with past members of that committee helping to write the document) and County Planning Board and staff members. It received a much needed endorsement by the State's Office of Smart Growth to give it "teeth" for enforcement.

Portions of the SGP are included below to show which direction it is headed:

"At the beginning of the Strategic Growth process, the Committee developed the following Visioning Statement: 'The visioning objective is to establish a County wide framework for guiding future growth and protecting environmentally sensitive features that constitute the unique physical characteristics and the rural, suburban and lake community development that, in combination, establish the overall character and quality of life in Sussex County.'

"This was a compilation of visioning goal statements developed by the Committee. They included the following (which are not in any particular order of importance):
1. Maintain the quality of life in Sussex County.
2. Encourage protection of agricultural production areas
3. Protection of private property rights
4. Preserve environmentally sensitive areas
5. Maintain and enhance surface and groundwater quality/water quantity
6. Direct future growth into areas which can support and sustain proposed development uses, intensity and economic development opportunities.

The SGP establishes specific "Landscapes" on a map, so that we can designate which areas in the County can support most future development: Traditional Towns, Villages and Hamlets, Job Creation Centers. Other Landscapes to mostly remain unmodified: Rural/Agricultural, Highlands, Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, and Lake Communities.

These areas have been designated on the "Landscape Map", which is the first figure in the SGP. The most recent version of this map that has been published is on our County website at:

Each Landscape, "is identifiable by its physical nature and constitutes a substantial, understandable entity." Let us start discussing the most challenging and economically vital category of landscape: Centers.

Standards and Requirements for Centers

Successful older Centers in New Jersey-Branchville, Ramsey, Ridgewood, and many aspects of Somerville, to name some-provide examples of how the best of the past can be revitalized or recreated.

But for more Centers with qualities of traditional towns, hamlets, or villages to thrive again, the government's "red tape" must become a "green light". Unfortunately, after decades of automobile-based planning, design, and engineering, ordinances and standards have made Centers virtually illegal or uneconomical. Now, Hardyston, Frankford, and Newton are actively writing new visions and ordinances at the municipal level. The County, for its part, is rewriting its Land Development Standards. The new Draft Land Standards, posted on the County website, has a new section for Center-related development or redevelopment along County roads and other support for Centers, such as a new zoning system and more shade tree guidelines. The Center-promoting standards and guidelines are in addition to numerous other updates, such as storm water standards to prevent flooding of County roads or bridges.

We encourage you to look at these documents. The language of the Strategic Growth Plan is readable, with an interesting introduction; likewise with Section V.X of the Land Development Standards. These are available on the Sussex County website on the Strategic Growth page under the Planning Division.

More ingredients are needed to fulfill the vision of the Strategic Growth Plan. These include Transfer of Development Rights to preserve property rights, and a Mobility Study and Circulation Plan to help make walking and transit pleasurable. We hope to soon shed more light on these ways that we plan to promote quality of life in Sussex County and help to preserve its beautiful environment.

Click here to visit the Strategic Growth Web Site

Submitted by:
Barry Fisher
Senior Planner, Sussex County Division of Planning
Sussex County Administrative Center
Phone: 973-579-0500 x 1333