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Golf course may become subdivision
By STEVE LEVINE
Thursday, August 23, 2001
Kresson Golf Course, which is No. 2 on the township environmental commission's wish list of 50 open-space properties worth preserving, could become yet another subdivision.
The owner of the environmentally sensitive, 154-acre tract has submitted conceptual designs for 95 single-family homes and 100 multi-family units.
The 18-hole golf course is owned by Mary B. Educat and run by her son, John, both of whom live on the property but who refused to comment.
John Educat would say only that the tract has been in his family since the 1920s, and he referred all other questions to his attorney, Donna Sigel Platt.
Platt said a full site plan would be filed "in the near future" but declined to be more specific. Her husband, planning board solicitor Stewart Platt, has removed himself from hearings on the plan, she said.
The area around Kresson-Gibbsboro Road, near the golf course, is becoming increasingly high-rent. In nearby Woodland Glen, an upscale community now under construction, a house on one acre sold in March for $713,000.
Bob Lynch, a Cherry Hill golfer who has played at Kresson for the past three years, said with homes selling for that kind of money it's no wonder the Educats want to sell.
"I would be disappointed, but property is at a premium in this area so I wouldn't be surprised," he said.
Cindy Gilman, project manager for the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, said of all the properties on the environmental commission's list, only the Stafford farm off Evesham Road had more open-space potential than the golf course. The trust, whose national office is in San Francisco, this year helped broker the township's only open- space purchase from the list of 50 properties - the 50-acre Lafferty tract.
"It's a really unique natural area because of its tiered lake system," Gilman said of the course.
In addition to ample wetlands and rolling greens, Gilman said the golf course is home to several species of endangered plants and animals, including the bog turtle and swamp pink, a flowering plant in the lily family.
While Gilman credited the Aducats for being "extremely conscientious stewards of their land," she said selling it for houses would be about the worst thing they could do.
"Rather than having one turf manager who is trained, you will have 95," she said. "Homeowners are the worst abusers ( of land)."
Mayor Harry Platt, who is not related to Sigel Platt, said the Educats had development approvals in the 1990s that they never used. Platt said he hopes the owners do not follow through with their plans again.
"I'd love to see it stay as a township golf course," he said.
Platt said he does not know what the land is worth or how much the township could raise to buy it. Voters approved up to $10 million in bonds in 1998 to preserve open space, but bonds have already been issued for about $3 million, Platt said. Still, he said state and county matching funds could help the township raise $15 million or more for the purchase of the golf course.
Resident Anna Droege, who has lived nearby for 38 years, said she wants to see the land stay open for its own sake and to avoid the problems of large-scale development.
"More houses mean more schools, more roads to be taken care of, more trash to be picked up," she said. "In the long run, it's more expenses and more taxes."
3 crossings make N.J. hit list
exerpts from Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/28/01
by Sara Isadora Mancuso, Inquirer Suburban Staff
"Two intersections in Camden County and another in Burlington County are among the state crossings with the highest incidence of accidents and the most severe collisions, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. . . .
. . . Population and commercial growth are the major factors, officials say.
. . . 'It's all part of a historical pattern: There's tract development, then you get an influx of people, then there's a demand for roads. Then, after a little while, there's a critical mass of people in an area where you can build commercial development, " said Richard Harris, director of the Rutger-Camden Institute for Public Affairs.
The strip centers and lavish malls then attract more people to live in the area, and the cycle continues, Harris said.
One such area of development, especially over the last 15 years, is along Route 73 between Mount Laurel and Berlin. The area is home to a Zagara's and Trader Joe's markets, multiple Wawas, movie theaters and office parks. Off Route 73 are roads leading to housing developments.
"You can create a lot of traffic flow and congestion there," Harris said. "It's not that people are driving any worse. It's more cars, more people, more accidents."
Voorhees drives a wedge into plans for golf course
It wants to buy the land for open space, but it also gave development an OK. Allegations abound.
By Will Van Sant
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
VOORHEES - The preliminary approval of a development application here has raised issues of preferential treatment and roused the ire of area environmentalists.
The controversy involves the 154-acre Kresson Golf Course, which in April 2000 was chosen first on a list of 49 properties that the Voorhees Environmental Commission hoped to acquire and preserve for open space. The tract is home to endangered animal and plant species, including the swamp pink flower.
At a planning board meeting last week, the Aducat family, owners of the golf course, received preliminary approval to build 106 single-family units and 100 multifamily units on 771/2 acres of their property. No date was set for final approval, which developers have three years to seek.
Some residents and the one board member who voted against the proposal said the application was lacking in several key respects. Others pointed out that John Aducat, son of Mary Aducat, the applicant, has close ties to key members of the local Democratic Party, which holds sway in the township. John Aducat has been a contributor to the Voorhees Township Democratic Club.
An Environmental Commission review of the application during the summer found it deficient. The application failed to locate swamp-pink populations, address the effects of pesticide and herbicide use in the development, or give complete lot dimensions, the review stated.
"It was the consensus that the plan did not contain enough information to decide the feasibility of the project given its environmentally sensitive nature," said Debora Schwartz, chairwoman of the Environmental Commission.
Frank Dutton, the planning board member who voted against approval, said the application lacked some essentials, including a grading plan to show how storm-water runoff and drainage would be handled.
"I felt that things were kind of getting pushed through without the public scrutiny that comes with a complete application," he said. "There were people in the audience who got up and raised questions about political connections. Had we had a complete application, it could have been fully explored in a way that could have eliminated the appearance of favoritism."
Board solicitor Stewart Platt recused himself. His wife, Donna, is the Aducats' attorney. The move may have heightened rather than dampened suspicions among residents.
The Aducats are also negotiating to sell the parcel for open space, and some in the community contend that the development initiative is a scheme to get a higher price from the township.
Donna Platt said it was a prudent move, with no scheming involved. The Aducats would love to sell the land, which is zoned for residential development, as open space, but a fair market value must be established, she said.
"The concept of preserving and obtaining the maximum value for your property is a basic American right," Platt said. "All they are doing is what anybody else would do."
She said she and the Aducats were sensitive to the Environmental Commission's concerns and had tried to cooperate. She pointed out, however, that the commission is only an advisory body on environmental issues.
The application complied with state and federal government requirements and was deemed sufficient by the planning board, Platt said. Further, she said, final approval depends on addressing the grading-plan issue and other concerns of opponents.
Platt called "ludicrous" suggestions that the application may have been given preferential treatment because of John Aducat's relationships with local Democrats or because she is the wife of the planning board solicitor.
Will Van Sant's e-mail address is email@example.com.
VOORHEES TO PARTNER WITH TRUST FOR PUBLIC LANDS IN OPEN SPACE EFFORT
VOORHEES ENTERS PARTNERSHIP TO SAVE LAND A PRIVATE TRUST WILL GIVE TOWNSHIP OFFICIALS HELP WITH PRICE NEGOTIATIONS AND GRANT APPLICATIONS.
By Brendan January, INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
Wednesday, May 31, 2000
To aid its efforts to buy and preserve open space, the Township Committee has decided to partner with a private conservation organization.
Cindy Gilman, a project manager for the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit agency dedicated to conserving land, will negotiate with landowners and apply for state, county and township money for purchases.
"We want to help a local community secure its objectives," said Gilman, whose services are free. "It's our goal to preserve land. We want people to have open areas in places close to their homes. And that's the problem: It's often not where people reside."
With open space rapidly dwindling in New Jersey, state and local governments have set aside money to preserve land before it is swallowed by development. In November 1998, Voorhees voters approved a nonbinding ballot question allowing the township to spend up
to $10 million on open space.
The township has set aside about $350,000 to make a down payment on $6 million in bonds to buy land.
Township Administrator Fred Mann met Gilman at a county seminar on open space in mid-April, and she also was recommended by the Voorhees Environmental Commission.
Before joining the Trust for Public Land in July, Gilman spent six years administering the Burlington County Farmland Preservation Program. With the Trust for Public Land, she has acquired land in Dover and Berkeley Townships in Ocean County.
"She can be the neutral person who can see the entire picture," Mann said. "Maybe we can put aside some of the mistrust and move ahead."
Gilman will use a list of 49 open parcels targeted by the Voorhees Environmental Commission and invite the landowners by letter to an information session July 13 at Voorhees Middle School.
"We only work with willing sellers," Gilman said. "It's my job to paint a picture that entices landowners to consider conservation rather than development," because many do not just consider price when selling their land. A landowner may be concerned about his or her legacy, Gilman noted, or the impact of the sale on the township.
In financial terms, selling or donating to a nonprofit organization can mean a lower selling price but more profit after taxes.
"These negotiations take a lot of time," Gilman said. "There's a lot of relationship-building and trying to understand the landowner's motivation. For as many deals as will work, two or more won't be successful. That's some of the heartache you have to deal with. "
Gilman can also help Voorhees negotiate state and county funding, an often complicated procedure of applications, requirements and deadlines.
"There's always a lot of hurdles to jump when you're dealing with any state agency," Mayor Gary Finger said. Gilman "has been down that road many times. This is what she does. She knows what mistakes have been made in the past, and she'll know how not to repeat them."
Towns' open-space questions appear to be approved
Mt. Laurel and W. Deptford were among those asking. Firefighter service awards were considered.
Wed. November 7, 2001
By Melanie D. Scott
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
Voters in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties did more than cast their votes for state and local candidates yesterday.
Many of them headed to the polls to support their municipalities' efforts to preserve open space, establish length-of-service program awards and vote on liquor-consumption licenses.
In Mount Laurel, voters appeared to approve an additional 2-cent tax for the establishment of an Open Space, Recreation and Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.
Voters would pay an annual 4-cent levy per $100 assessed value for a period not exceeding 20 years. Residents now pay 2 cents. Property owners whose home is assessed at $125,000 will pay an additional $25 in taxes per year and $500 over the 20-year period.
Many voters in Mount Laurel said they were just as concerned about voting on township open space as casting a ballot for the next governor.
"This is just as important," said resident Jeff Taylor. "Open space is something we can't take for granted."
Although the measure seemed to have passed by a 2-1 ratio, results in the township were not final because a ballot cartridge was stuck in one of the voting machines and not counted. However, 25 of the 26 precincts in the township were counted.
Voters in West Deptford narrowly approved an annual 1-cent tax per $100 assessed value for the acquisition, development and maintenance of land for recreation and conservation purposes.
"Most people in our town are anti-sprawl and want less development, so what probably happened was they couldn't understand it," said Mayor David Shields. "It probably should have been worded better."
West Deptford voters also approved a plan to establish a length-of-service awards program for its volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
In Eastampton, voters approved an administrative change that will give officials the power to pursue additional state open-space aid and other grants.
Hainesport voters approved a plan allowing the township to establish a trust fund for the purchase of land within the township for use as open space.
The township will levy a tax of 1 cent per $100 of assessed value for the fund. Homeowners whose property is assessed at the township average, $137,900, would pay $13.79 in additional taxes per year, effective Jan. 1. The fund would expire in five years.
In Mansfield, voters approved a plan authorizing the township to establish a length of service awards program for the Franklin Fire Company and the Mansfield Township ambulance squad members.
The program will provide annual contributions to a deferred-income account for active volunteers that are eligible.
Moorestown voters approved a plan to increase the Open-Space, Recreation and Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The council will decide each year, depending on open-space priorities, whether to raise the existing 2-cent tax to a total of 2 cents to 6 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The proposition would take effect in January and last for seven years.
Southampton voters rejected a proposition that would extend the sale of alcoholic beverages from midnight Saturdays to 2 a.m. Sundays.
Voters approved a proposition that will allow township officials to establish a farmland preservation fund and will levy an annual 2-cent tax per $100 in assessed value.
Homeowners assessed at the township average of $107,000 will pay an additional $21.40 in taxes.
In Gloucester County, voters in East Greenwich and Mantua considered length-of-service award programs and open-space proposals.
East Greenwich voters approved a plan to authorize a length-of-service awards program for the Mount Royal Fire Company, East Greenwich Fire Company and East Greenwich Ambulance Association.
In Mantua, voters approved a proposal for a length-of-service awards program for its emergency services organization members.
Melanie D. Scott's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, November 22, 2001
State seizes records of firm in political-corruption probe
By Maureen Graham and George Anastasia
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
Investigators with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice seized records and computers from a Moorestown engineering firm yesterday as part of an expanding investigation into suspected political corruption in South Jersey.
Investigators with a search warrant entered the offices of JCA Associates on North Church Street in the morning and began seizing files and equipment, said an attorney who represents one company official. Authorities also raided a facility in North Jersey where JCA stores other files.
Already the subject of a grand-jury investigation into possible political influence-peddling in Burlington County, JCA has surfaced in a related political probe in Gloucester County that centers, in part, on the controversial RiverWinds development project along the Delaware River in West Deptford and on political fund-raising and contributions.
Documents from JCA's RiverWinds file were seized as part of yesterday's raid, according to those familiar with the case.
Officials with the Division of Criminal Justice in Trenton declined to comment.
JCA's president, Mark Neisser, and director of business development, Henry Chudzinski, were present when the raid occurred.
"This investigation has been going on for months and months," said M.W. Pinsky, the attorney for Chudzinski. "It's outrageous that they would issue a search warrant the night before Thanksgiving. They're treating this company like they're a terrorist gang."
Pinsky said that in the last several months the company had responded to numerous subpoenas and had never moved to quash one. The search warrant, he said, came as a surprise to everyone.
"It's obvious that the investigation has expanded. As far as what they're actually looking for, it's become very mysterious," Pinsky said.
About a dozen investigators arrived in several vans and began carting away boxes of documents and at least two computers and a Palm Pilot, company officials said. They also searched desks and file cabinets in various offices. In all, investigators took numerous files relating to dozens of JCA projects, they said.
JCA employs about 100 people and does engineering work for about 18 townships and government agencies throughout New Jersey, especially in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington Counties. Company officials said the amount of business JCA does annually is private.
The JCA officials have been at the center of a political storm in Burlington County that has pitted George Norcross 3d, South Jersey's Democratic power broker, against Palmyra Borough Councilman John Gural Jr. and Palmyra solicitor Ted Rosenberg.
Gural, a former employee of JCA, has alleged in a civil suit that he was pressured to vote against Rosenberg's reappointment as solicitor because Rosenberg had run against Norcross' candidate for the Burlington County Democratic Party chairmanship.
Norcross has denied any involvement in the contretemps, which is now part of the grand-jury probe. Among other things, Gural recorded conversations with Norcross and his JCA superiors for the Division of Criminal Justice.
Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe expanded from Gural's allegations to a broader look at politics in South Jersey.
JCA is a major political contributor, and a large part of its work is in government-
Maureen Graham's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Route 73 proposal gets mixed reaction
By Will Van Sant
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
December 4, 2001
VOORHEES - A proposal to clean up and develop a contaminated industrial site on Route 73 faces opposition from residents who say they are wary of unsightly sprawl and increased traffic.
Newark-based ReNEWal Realty L.L.C. wants to build five structures totaling 198,000 square feet and create 993 parking spaces on the 26-acre site, which is home to the abandoned Atlas Concrete plant. A BJ's Wholesale Club store is among the proposed occupants.
Concerned residents of the adjacent Sturbridge Lakes community say they are calling for further study of development in Voorhees along Route 73, already one of the area's most congested roads.
"We just don't want to see a development that compromises the quality of life for residents," said Ed Ferruggia, a trustee of the Sturbridge Lakes Homeowners Association.
Mayor Harry Platt said the development could bring the township hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. In the process, developers would pick up the bill for cleaning up the vacant site and removing environmental hazards, he said.
ReNEWal has asked for no variances or waivers in its proposal, which is in compliance with the 1998 master plan created by the former Republican administration, said Platt, a Democrat. The township's master plan is a guideline for development that includes zoning regulations.
There is little that can be done to halt the development, Platt said.
Opening up the master plan to review and putting curbs on growth, he said, would expose the township to allegations of spot zoning and possible lawsuits.
"Right now, we are following the law, and our hands are tied because the previous administration did not do its homework," Platt said.
"Our hands are not tied," said Gary Finger, a Republican member of the Township Committee. "The law permits you to review your master plan any time you like."
According to Finger, the 1998 master plan had unanimous support from the Township Committee, including Platt, when it was voted on in 1999.
Finger said the development would require the construction of a jug handle and a traffic light, which he said state officials would not approve without a resolution of support from Voorhees.
"It sure seems to me like we can put a stop to it," he said.
Platt said he was sympathetic to residents who fear a cookie-cutter big-box store in their midst, and he supported making some level of aesthetic coherence and taste a condition of approval.
Cutting through 14 municipalities on its way from the Delaware River to the Atlantic City Expressway, Route 73 has been the focus of a development boom in the last decade.
The population along the highway is expected to jump by 34 percent to more than 400,000 in the next two decades, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning
One of the last stretches of undeveloped highway frontage runs through Voorhees near the graceful homes and waterways of Sturbridge Lakes.
The project's jug handle and traffic light would go between William Feather and Signal Hill Drives, near the entrance to the private community.
"The traffic light and jug handle are just going to be a nightmare for Route 73," Ferrugia said, adding that the roadway "is already congested."
A development application for the site is not expected to go before the planning board until January.
Will Van Sant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Panel heightens drought alarm
The Delaware River Basin Commission declared an emergency. Restrictions are still voluntary for consumers.
By Suzette Parmley
INQUIRER TRENTON BUREAU
WEST TRENTON, N.J. - With three New York reservoirs that feed the Delaware River dipping to record-low levels, the Delaware River Basin Commission declared a drought emergency yesterday for the region.
The action allows the commission to order additional water released from lakes and reservoirs so it can flow into the Delaware River, which supplies much of the region's water.
The commission, however, did not order the states to impose mandatory restrictions on water use. Pennsylvania and New Jersey now have voluntary restrictions in place, but officials in both states said yesterday that they had no plans to impose any mandatory curbs on water use at this time.
The five-member commission, which manages the 13,539-square mile watershed that drains portions of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, voted unanimously at a hearing to approve the resolution declaring a drought emergency.
The commission also ordered electrical utilities and other companies that each use more than a million gallons of water a day to prepare contingency plans to use less water and submit those plans to the commission.
"This is a water-supply emergency," Carol Collier, the commission's executive director, said. "It's a situation where we're not getting as much water this year as we expected, so we've got to better manage the water we receive."
The commission's action will immediately allow extra water to flow into the Delaware River from Lake Wallenpaupack in the Poconos, the F.E. Walter Reservoir in Luzerne County, Pa., Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County, and other bodies of water.
Yesterday's action was triggered by lower levels in three reservoirs in the Catskills region of New York. Their combined capacity was reported yesterday to be about 64 billion gallons, or 24 percent of capacity for this time of year. That is the lowest level since the last of the three reservoirs went on line in 1967.
The water shortage has been exacerbated by below-normal precipitation for this time of the year.
Richard Frometh, a water-resources engineer for the commission, said that rainfall in the Delaware River basin's northern half was about 10 inches below normal for the year.
Philadelphia was down 12.3 inches for the year, according to the National Weather Service. Trenton was down 8.3 inches.
Gary Szatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said yesterday that 6 to 12 inches of precipitation above normal levels was needed throughout much of the basin to eliminate the rainfall deficit.
Last month, Pennsylvania and New Jersey instituted voluntary restrictions on water use.
Dennis Hart, who represented acting New Jersey Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco at yesterday's hearing, said the commission's action "allows the states to further get the message out that we're in a situation where we have to be careful about the water we use and start making plans on what we're going to do if the precipitation situation doesn't change."
He added: "We've laid the groundwork if the state needs to start moving into the next phase in our own emergency conditions."
Pennsylvania declared a drought watch on Aug. 8. On Nov. 6, it issued a drought warning in the south-central part of the state. On Dec. 5, the watch and warning were expanded to cover the rest of the state's 62 counties. Both a watch and a warning call for voluntary water conservation.
"It means conditions are obviously not getting better, whether it's a drought emergency by the [Delaware River Basin Commission] or drought warning throughout southeastern Pennsylvania," said Susan Rickens, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "The bottom line for residents is we are still asking for voluntary conservation of about 10 to 15 percent" of nonessential water use.
"The number-one thing we ask people to do is to fix their leaks, such as a leaky faucet or leaking toilets," she said. "Any type of appliance that might be leaking, we ask you to repair it. Those are the biggest water wasters."
A leak as small as the head of a pin can waste as much as 180 gallons of water a day, Rickens said. A quarter-inch hole in a pipe can waste 12,000 gallons a day.
If water levels continue to decline by various measures, such as precipitation, groundwater and reservoir levels, stream flows, and soil moisture, the DEP will make a recommendation of actions to the governor, Rickens said. The governor and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council would have to take action to impose a drought emergency and mandatory water restrictions.
New Jersey follows a similar protocol. On Nov. 21, Commissioner Robert Shinn of the Department of Environmental Protection issued a drought warning for 251 municipalities, most near the Delaware.
Suzette Parmley's e-mail address is email@example.com.
The Trend Online
Online Staff Reporter
A multi-municipal master plan for pedestrian and bicycle pathways joining the townships of Berlin, Cherry Hill and Voorhees and the boroughs of Berlin, Gibbsboro and Lindenwold is in the works.
The six Camden County municipalities have each moved forward independently with plans to build pedestrian/bicycle pathways.
The six have expressed interest in the coordination of their efforts with each other to achieve a unified bikeways network with uniform design standards. As the towns act in concert with each other, they will also be able to take advantage of additional funding opportunities.
The Voorhees Bicycle and Pedestrian Pathway Committee was instrumental in moving the project forward. They invited representatives from neighboring towns to attend their October meeting. As a result, Voorhees Mayor Harry Platt; John Madera, a representative from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission [DVRPC]; Marge Della Vecchia, director of Engineering for Cherry Hill Township; and Ed Campbell, mayor of Gibbsboro, joined forces to plan for a network of connecting bikeways.
Mayor Harry Platt contacted mayors from Lindenwold, Berlin Township and Berlin Borough. They were also eager to become involved.
The exchange of ideas at the meeting and the enthusiastic support from the DVRPC gave a jump-start to the next phase of the project. A federal grant for $53,750 has been proposed. Each municipalitys bikeway plans will be compiled into a single map and database and an overall strategic implementation plan will be prepared. The one-year study is scheduled to begin July 1, 2002.
Voorhees Township is presently in the process of getting their pedestrian/bicycle pathway system up and running. The township has submitted a Municipal Aid Application proposal to the NJDOT.
The plan encompasses the construction of pedestrian/bicycle pathways that will extend along Centennial Boulevard from its intersection at Route 561 [Haddonfield-Berlin Road] to Kresson Road. The pathway will proceed southbound on Kresson Road to Route 73. With the exception of a slight jog on Route 73, the pathway will parallel Route 73 along Dutchtown Road.
According to Rick Ricciardi, a member of the Voorhees Bicycle Committee, word from NJDOT to go forward could come any day.
Gibbsboro Mayor Ed Campbell says the multi-township pedestrian/bicycle pathway project "is creating lots of synergistic energy." Gibbsboro received funding from NJDOT last November for its bike path along North United States Avenue. The project is slated to start any day, and will take about 3 months to complete.
Beginning at the southwest corner of the intersection of United States Avenue and Foster Avenue, it will go for a distance of 4,550 feet, almost to Lindenwold.
Berlin Borough has also applied to NJDOT to connect existing sidewalks along the White Horse Pike for the purpose of pedestrian/bicycle pathways according to the borough administrator.
Lindenwold Mayor Frank DeLucca said work started on the bike path in his town two years ago connecting Lindenwold Park, which is on United States Avenue, with the PATCO speed-line on Berlin Road.
The completed portion runs from Lindenwold Park on United States Avenue down Egg Harbor Road to Gibbsboro Road. Under construction, is the portion that extends from Gibbsboro Road to the PATCO high-speed line on Berlin Road. "Hopefully, it will be completed in January," says Mayor DeLucca.
Berlin Township Mayor David McPeak says, "In our town almost five miles of pathways have been constructed around our recreational facilities. We are currently in the process of applying for additional state grants for more bikeways and pathways."
In 1994, Cherry Hill Township became the trailblazer in Camden County with the start of their pathways system. It links the neighborhoods of Woodcrest, Barclay and Erlton. At one end is PATCO ës Woodcrest Station, and at the other end is the Camden County bikeway on Park Drive. "Our newest hope is to connect our existing bikeways with our neighboring communities," says Marge Della Vecchia.
"We would like to expand our bikeway to continue down to Kresson Road all the way until it joins Voorhees Township at Evesham Road at Main Street. We would be a great link to other communities as well, because we will be the bike path connector to the Cooper River Park."
The new one-year study is the first inter-municipal plan in New Jersey and will serve as a model. The findings and recommendations will also be incorporated in the DVRPC's current Route 30 Corridor Study, which is a traffic and transportation roadway improvement plan.
Further along for the DVRPC is a pedestrian/bike trail project along East Atlantic Avenue that extends from Oaklyn to Clementon. East Atlantic Avenue parallels the White Horse Pike and the PATCO speed-line. It goes through Haddon Township and the boroughs of Oaklyn, Audubon, Haddon Heights, Barrington, Lawnside, Magnolia, Somerdale, Hi-Nella, Stratford, Laurel Springs and Clementon.
Watchdogs that have byte
Residents are running Web sites to keep an eye on local government.
December 30, 2001
By Will Van Sant
INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
When Marco Agostini sued Voorhees last year over its tax-abatement policies, he asked to see a copy of the township's master plan, a document that regulates development.
Township lawyers did not give it to him, Agostini said, but told him that he could find the document online at www.veravoorhees.com.
The site, run by resident Lori Volpe, is one of several Web sites that have cropped up in the region to act as watchdogs of local government.
Some sites link to documents on hot issues. Others have message boards allowing people to share their opinions on local controversies. Still others point out relationships between political contributions and lucrative contracts.
All are meant to shed light on local politics and get residents more involved in government.
"I think they can be very powerful tools for citizens," Volpe said.
Craig Issod has created an uproar with his edgy postings and satires of Medford politicians on www.medfordnj.com.
In Monroe Township, Gloucester County, Ed Knorr uses his site to keep watch over the administration that ousted him from the township's environmental commission early this year, prompting an exodus of fellow commission members.
Volpe's site, created in 2000, is an extension of her nonprofit group, Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance. Everything the local eco-activist might need is available, from documents on open space and smart growth to postings on wildlife sightings in town.
"People bring up information they got from the Web site at public meetings," Volpe said. "So the township has to contend with the data that is on our site."
There is an Election Central section that includes a "Winner$ and Loser$" page, where New Jersey's "pay-to-play" system is charted. One can see, for instance, that JCA Associates Inc. donated $3,600 to the Voorhees Democratic Club in 2000. The firm was subsequently appointed township engineer.
"We thought people should have that information readily available when they were deciding whom to vote for," Volpe said.
Knorr's Monroe Township site is about two months old. It is an extension of the Green Action Alliance, formed by Knorr and five other environmental-commission members who resigned last January. They say the township was too political to take public health seriously.
The site, which is still being worked on, includes postings about a variety of local issues, including one that calls for a ban on underground storage tanks in a township that has long faced water-contamination issues.
It also has brief opinion pieces, one comparing the township's attitude about public-health concerns with that of an ostrich with its head in the sand.
"People have to realize that key issues at local levels are pushed aside when [government] wants them pushed aside," Knorr said.
There is also a feature that allows visitors to pose questions about environmental and health concerns.
"I wanted to create a link to get information out," Knorr said, "and for people to come forward with their issues."
The Green Action Alliance site can be reached through www.thegreenclubkids.com, another site under construction that will be aimed at educating children and getting them involved in environmental issues.
Issod, husband of Medford Councilwoman Martha Issod, started his site in 1995. Martha Issod said that, too often, newspapers fail in their obligation to do investigative journalism and that sites such as her husband's create a forum for taking government's official line to task.
"At the time, our township was doing some pretty stupid things, like suing its own citizens," Craig Issod recalled. "I was frustrated that the council did not seem to care what the people thought."
Issod is something of a gadfly. His writings about local development and politicians have a spirited tone that has led to feuds, especially with Scott Rudder, the former mayor.
"Politicians can't understand anybody who is not beholden to them," Issod said. "They can't even imagine a world where government is what we learned it was in school."
Rudder said that he understood that Issod has a right to express himself, but that the tone of his site was often aggressive and the views expressed were minority ones.
"He has been using this site as his personal political soapbox for the last five years," Rudder said. "And, quite frankly, the views are often different than what Main Street Medford thinks."
Along with criticism of the township's development policies, Issod's site includes information on Medford's history and his thoughts on current events.
"I don't fool myself that I can change things to any degree," said Issod. "All I want to do is make people think. If I have made a few people think, I have succeeded."
Will Van Sant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atlas Renewal Plan Proposed
By Sybil Kleinfeld
The impact on Voorhees residents of developing and cleaning up the former Atlas concrete plant, a contaminated industrial site along the Route 73 corridor, was the hot topic at the recent Voorhees Environmental Commission [VEC] meeting.
ReNEWal Economic Advisors want to redevelop the 27-acre site into 200,000 square feet of commercial space. The BJ's Wholesale Club store would be one of the first tenants.
Atlas concrete closed in 1995 when the NJ Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] found several potential areas of environmental concern. The site is on a list of Voorhees Townshipís brownfields as posted by the DEP. Brownfields are polluted commercial and industrial sites that are being considered for expansion or redevelopment.
ReNEWal is a Willingboro development company that takes brownfield sites that need to be cleaned up and brings them back to life.
At the VEC meeting, ReNEWal presented an Environmental Impact Report and its design plans for the property. No variances or waivers are being asked for.
The environmental commission found several areas of concern, specifically that the full nature and extend of contamination on the site was not presented. Also, an inadequate storm management proposal would not protect the water quality at Sturbridge Lakes.
he Sturbridge Lakes residential community is adjacent to the former Atlas site. Residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the noise, lighting and the traffic impact the redevelopment would have on their community.
At the January 8 VEC meeting, ReNEWal experts addressed these concerns. The company says it will comply with whatever DEP regulations are called for, and is eager to clean up the site. The applicant also agreed to redesign the basins for better water quality.
A videotape on brownfields redevelopment and success stories was also shown. Environmental engineer, Lisa Sauer, explained the history of the site and what remedial actions have been and are being taken.
"Everything we do here complies to DEP standards," said Stephen Jaffe, a ReNEWal principal. "We will keep the people of Sturbridge Lakes in mind and do the best for them we can."
VEC Chairperson Debra Schwartz said, "This is a site that has problems. They [the developers] have been very agreeable on our issues and have supplied the information we requested. They have been pretty easy to work with.
"I don't think the commission will have a problem with the application assuming the applicant receives a letter of 'no further action' from the DEP."
"I am happy to see that the ReNEWal Economic developers have complied with the requests made by the VEC," said Voorhees Mayor Harry Platt. "There are many environmental concerns that the neighboring community has, and I hope that the developer's willingness to work with our boards will address some of their concerns."
A development application for the site will be presented to the planning board on February 13.
Planning Board warned about reporters
by Will Van Sant
January 27, 2002
Beware the unwavering gaze of the press. At the reorganization meeting earlier this month, Voorhees Planning Board Chairman Thomas Glock warned new members about talking with the press.
"Any calls to anyone from the press ... should be referred to our solicitor, or at least you discuss the matter with the solicitor prior to discussing it with the press," Glock said.
"I anticipate some controversial issues coming up this year," Glock said. "It's not that we are trying to hide anything. It's just ... I have never seen a positive story about a member of the planning board."
Glock did not return a call for comments on his remarks.
Planning Board solicitor Stuart Platt also decline to comment, saying "I will not comment on comments by board members."
Group wants oasis amid clutter of Route 73
By LAWRENCE HAJNA
There isn't much that's noteworthy about the four-mile stretch of Route 73 passing through Voorhees. It epitomizes the saying, "Blink and you miss it."
The highway passes nondescript offices and houses, auto repair shops, woods, the ruins of a cement plant, and aging strip malls.
But some residents believe this section of Route 73, which connects thriving commercial areas in Evesham and Berlin Township, is on the verge of a growth spurt.
They hope to see it developed in a way that preserves some of the township's last tracts of open space while providing buildings pleasing to the eye.
In fact, they hope to make Route 73 a test case for smart growth in South Jersey. Smart growth, of course, is the concept of clustering development where it will have the least impact on the environment.
"We know a lot of people in other areas are struggling with the same issues as Voorhees," said Lori Volpe, founder of the Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance.
Her group and the West Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club are sponsoring a symposium Thursday night to help activists, residents and officials control development better, through zoning laws and regulations to make commercial buildings more attractive.
Guest speakers will be Howard D. Cohen, an attorney who defended Bedminster, Somerset County, in a landmark zoning case, and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation's Dennis O. Miranda, who has advised local governments on protecting open space.
While Volpe would rather see development steered to urban areas such as Camden, she recognizes suburban sprawl is inevitable on busy highways such as Route 73.
She and others fear the rampant spread of big-box stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations that characterize many of South Jersey's major roadways, and what some say makes parts of South Jersey quite unattractive.
Debby Schwartz, a member of the Voorhees Environmental Commission, said this happens because local governments usually lack long-term visions for places such as Route 73.
"The reality is that development has taken place like pieces of a puzzle," she said, "but no one ever knows what the end result will be."
To reach Larry Hajna, call him at (856) 486-2466 or e-mail him at email@example.com
Posted on Thu, May. 02, 2002
26 Pa. counties get F on pollution test
By Peter Sigal
Inquirer Staff Writer
The American Lung Association ranks Bucks County's ozone pollution as the worst in Pennsylvania - but acknowledges that only one monitor, placed in Bristol, was used for the study that sampled about 40 percent of the state's counties.
The results, included in the association's annual "State of the Air" report this week, concludes that Bucks had more unhealthy ozone days than Philadelphia and even industrialized Pittsburgh's Allegheny County, which fell to second in the state this year.
Bucks County health officials were taken aback.
"That's a surprise," said Ham Pucci, the Health Department's director of environmental health. "The county has no reputation for smog problems."
A lung association representative said yesterday the group looked at air-pollution data nationwide, from 595 of about 3,000 U.S. counties, between 1998 and 2000, grading the counties on an A to F scale. In Pennsylvania, 28 counties out of 67 were ranked: Bucks County and 25 others were given F's.
Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the group's Pennsylvania chapter, defended the study, even with its limited data. He said yesterday that residents needed to be aware of pollution levels that could affect their health.
"We're not interested in alarming people," Stewart said. "We're trying to tell people the truth as best as we can get it."
An F, he explained, means that air sensors already placed by the state Department of Environmental Protection logged more than 10 days when air-pollution levels were considered unhealthy for those with lung diseases, children 14 and younger, or those 65 and older. No Pennsylvania counties ranked A's, given for having no days with unhealthy conditions.
Montgomery County ranked fourth, Delaware County, seventh, and Philadelphia, 15th. Chester County was not included because of "insufficient data," the report said, although the county has two DEP ozone monitors, one in New Garden and another in West Chester.
The 12 New Jersey counties ranked - out of 21 - each received an F, including Camden, judged the state's worst, and Gloucester, ranked fifth. Burlington County was not included in the report.
Specifically, the report measured ground-level ozone, which is produced when emissions from autos, solvents and power plants react with oxygen and sunlight.
When inhaled, ozone molecules are trapped in the cells that line the lungs, causing the lungs to contract and inhibiting breathing, according to allergists and pulmonary-disease specialists.
"It's been well-documented that there's a relationship between bad pollution and asthma," said Steven Smith, an allergist with offices in Richboro and Northeast Philadelphia. "It's debatable whether it causes it, but if somebody has asthma, it will absolutely make it worse."
Officials who monitor air pollution said the lung association's study does not recognize that air pollution is a regional, even national, problem - and that today's pollution levels are a fraction of what they were in the 1970s.
"You have to put this county-by-county thing into perspective," said Francine Carlini, regional air-quality program manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Bristol is in the traffic-choked southern end of Bucks County.
The prevailing west and south winds bring emissions from as far away as coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley and as near as Philadelphia, Carlini said.
Contact Peter Sigal at 215-345-7768 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, May 2, 2002
Mt. Laurel adapts to growth
TINA MARKOE KINSLOW/Courier-Post
Bumper-to-bumper traffic is a common sight on Route 73 at
Fellowship Road in Mount Laurel, whose population grew
nearly 33 percent from 1990 to 2000.
Thursday, May 2, 2002
Mt. Laurel adapts to growth
By MICHAEL T.BURKHART and BARBARA S.ROTHSCHILD
Marianna Gilpin griped about the traffic as she had her car filled with gas at Stiles Sunoco, a longtime fixture on Route 38 half a mile east of Interstate 295.
"It's a mess. It's terrible. This route used to be so nice," said Gilpin, who moved to Mount Laurel 10 years ago to get away from the congestion in Cherry Hill, her hometown for 22 years.
Now, development and its byproducts, such as increased traffic, have caught up with her.
They've also caught up with the township.
From 1990 to 2000, Mount Laurel's population grew almost 33 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The boom, from 30,270 residents to 40,221, makes Mount Laurel one of the fastest-growing municipalities in South Jersey.
To handle the surging population, government services have increased. County, state and local roads have been widened to accommodate the crush of traffic from commuters and residents; new schools have been built to handle students from the developments; and additional baseball fields have been built, with more recreation areas on the way.
"We've kept pace," said Mayor Peter McCaffrey. "We have to constantly buy things like new trash trucks. We have to put more people on" the payroll, he said.
Township projections show there is room for about 7,000 more people before the municipality reaches capacity somewhere around 2010.
"It's definitely on the horizon," McCaffrey said.
The rapid growth has been a blessing and a curse for Mount Laurel.
Development has brought more people, forcing road and school construction, but it also has brought taxable properties. This year, Mount Laurel was one of the few municipalities in the state that did not increase taxes for municipal services, although residents approved a school tax hike.
Taxable properties in Mount Laurel stand at $3.1 billion. Of that, about $2.1 billion is made up of homes, which pay about 69 percent of all Mount Laurel taxes.
Mount Laurel's budget has grown from $15.1 million 10 years ago to $25.9 million this year. At the same time, the municipal tax rate has increased from 29.2 cents per $100 of assessed value to 36 cents per $100.
For the owner of a home assessed at $136,300, the township average, municipal taxes have increased by almost $100 over the past decade, from $398 in 1992 to $490 this year, not taking into account variables like inflation.
"Certainly our resources have been stretched," said township administrator Patricia Halbe, who sometimes doesn' t leave the office until after midnight. "We're putting in a full day's work for a full day's pay."
Traffic along Route 38 at the interchange with Interstate 295 has been choked for years.
Sharon Reckord of Willingboro said she avoids the area as much as possible.
"Driving here is a nightmare from 5 to 6:30 p.m.," she said.
As a cost-saving measure when the interchange was built in 1964, ramps connecting the two roads were not built, forcing motorists to travel along local streets to position themselves to go the right way on the interstate.
Now, the "missing" ramps look like they will be built ‡ to the tune of an estimated $66 million. The state's plan is fueled by development in the area, especially a prospective $100 million shopping and hotel complex in a field next to I-295's Exit 40.
That's bad news for Jamie Schilling, who lives on East Main Street in Moorestown, close to the site of the future complex.
"We're pretty upset about it. As it is, it's already more congested on Main Street. A lot of people take Main Street instead of Route 38 to try to avoid the congestion," Schilling said.
Many of the roads in Mount Laurel started as dirt cartways that followed the lay of the land. They were improved with gravel and eventually paved. In many cases, the roads were widened and improved without solving the problems of intersection alignment, winding curves and poor sight distances.
"The roads are pretty congested," McCaffrey said. "The little country roads are no longer little country roads."
Traffic along Route 38 at Hartford Road increased from 28, 710 vehicles a day in both directions in 1992 to 42,160 a day in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available. On I-295, traffic just north of the Route 73 interchange increased from 58,300 vehicles a day in 1993 to 84,810 in 2000.
Big state projects have been the norm for years in North Jersey, said Jim Hadden, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, but only recently have they come to South Jersey.
He pointed to the proposed realignment in the area where I- 295, Route 42 and I-76 come together, which could start around 2010 and cost an estimated $80 million.
"We've always kept an eye on (traffic)," Hadden said. "But now we're more attuned to it in South Jersey."
The state isn't the only government entity spending money in Mount Laurel on road projects.
Over the past five years, Burlington County has spent $8.5 million on county road and bridge improvements in the township, more than in any other municipality, said county engineer Joe Caruso.
In July, construction starts on an $800,000 county project to improve the safety of the intersection of Hainesport- Mount Laurel and Hartford roads on the township's eastern edge.
The four legs of the crossroads will be widened for more turning lanes, according to plans approved in April by the freeholders.
Mount Laurel schools also have faced a tough climb to keep pace with residential development.
The K-8 district has an enrollment of 4,527 students, up from 3,747 in 1994, said Marie Reynolds, district spokeswoman. It can handle 4,986 pupils. Officials hope their capacity will carry the district through residential build-out.
Until recently, the district's elementary schools were crowded. Classes were held behind the stage and even in closets. Portable partitions divided rooms.
The new Springville Elementary School, which opened in the fall, should be the last new building the district needs, Reynolds said.
There are 492 youngsters at Springville, which can hold 690.
"I think we're ready now," she said. "We're more ready this year than the year before."
But it was a struggle to get the $22.3 million, K-4 school built. Voters rejected two bond issues before finally approving it in May 1999. The district gets only 12 percent of its budget from the state, leaving taxpayers to pick up the rest.
"It's been difficult to try to get taxpayers to understand that we can't turn any child away," Reynolds said.
With the boom in housing development has come the need for additional recreation facilities.
At Laurel Acres Park on Wednesday, the warm sunny weather brought out plenty of recreation-seekers to the township's largest park. About half were from outside the township.
"The fact that you have three playgrounds in one spot is nice," said Cathy Mason of Cherry Hill, watching her son Michael, 3, swinging on an inner tube.
But Dee Frawley of Mount Laurel, the mother of two girls and a boy, said there's a need for football fields.
"This tends to be a more soccer-oriented community. The Fleetwood Pop Warner Football League has to play its games at Lenape High School (in Medford), and the Rancocas Woods field is pretty much a mess," said Frawley, who coaches the league's cheerleading squad.
Gretchen Mohnacs of Mount Laurel, accompanied by 3-year- old daughter Emily and 6-month-old twins Jake and Sam, said she visits Laurel Acres at least twice a week.
"I'd like more bike trails, paths that are accessible with a stroller," she said.
The township recently added a "fit center" for stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercises, and has stocked the Laurel Acres pond with trout.
Joanne Babia of Delran and Rick Ravasco of Philadelphia were in-line skating around the pond Wednesday and paused to check out the exercise equipment.
"This is a good thing to do for older people, since the park is really geared to kids," said Babia, who is 23. She and Ravasco, 25, would like better paths for skating, distance markers around the pond and courts for tennis and basketball.
The township has purchased open space for preservation and has saved more than
335 acres since 1998. The township does not yet know what it may do with most of the land, although a study is under way to build sports fields on a portion of one property.
Residents pay 4 cents per $100 of a property's assessed value to support open-space preservation, along with another 4 cents to Burlington County's program.
Four baseball diamonds - complete with lights and dugouts - were built last year at Laurel Acres Park, McCaffrey said.
There also are talks to build more soccer fields at Trotter's Crossing, one of the township's parcels of open space.
Over the past 10 years, the number of youths ages 3 to 19 participating in soccer has doubled, said Tom Pape, Mount Laurel United soccer board member.
Now, about 2,000 youths participate in Mount Laurel leagues, which include handicapped programs.
All that's needed are more fields, Pape said.
"We've always been lacking facilities as it deals with soccer," Pape said. "In the past
10 years, we really haven' t added any game fields."
Wednesday, May 1, 2002
Goodbye, lawn: S.J. yards go native
By KIM MULFORD
It was laziness that spelled the end of Bob Cassel's lawn.
"Laziness about getting the darn mower out and digging out (weeds) and dandelions," he explained.
Last summer, with the help of a neighbor, the 87-year- old Mantua resident tore up the grass in his front yard and replaced it with flower beds and mulch walkways. He has similar plans for another swatch of lawn in the back yard.
"It was such a lot of work to keep all this going," Cassel said. "It was silly."
And so, the grass is gone, replaced with ferns, perennials, wildflowers, bulbs and shrubs.
Grass is the king of ground covers in South Jersey yards, but a growing number of homeowners are replacing at least some of their lawns with more natural landscaping. It' s less work, more attractive and better for the environment, advocates say.
Some people convert their lawns into wildlife habitats of native plants or replace them with hardy ground covers like ivy or vinca, which require little to no maintenance once established.
Others turn their yards into vegetable or wildflower gardens.
trend is heating up nationwide, especially in areas plagued by drought. Drought restrictions in South Jersey, for example, now only allow homeowners to water their lawns two days a week.
"There is an incredible interest among homeowners to step away from it," said Cheryl Long, editor in chief of Mother Earth News, a natural lifestyle magazine with 350, 000 readers. "There's a range of directions you can go once you decide a flat, boring grass lawn is not very much fun."
The nonprofit National Wildlife Federation says it has seen an increasing number of homeowners who are reducing their lawns to create safe havens for wildlife.
Nationally, the federation has certified 31,362 back yards as wildlife habitats. New Jersey ranks 14th with 999 certified habitats. (Pennsylvania is second, behind South Carolina.)
The federation doesn't advise people to rip out their lawns, said spokeswoman Mary Burnette.
"But there's more that people can be doing (for the environment) if they replace part of their lawn with a more natural landscape," Burnette said.
Of course, not everyone thinks grass is boring or bad. Families with young children find a healthy lawn is a desirable place to run and romp.
Grass is hard to beat as a playing surface, said Mary Eklund, program associate with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Camden County. Grass helps choke out weeds, keeps a yard looking tidy and complements beds of flowers, shrubs and trees.
Grass can visually balance out a large house, though an open area of ground cover can do the same thing, said Cliff Jones of Land Design Alternatives Inc. in Tabernacle.
"(Grass) has a nice look to it when it's nice and green and lush," he said.
In South Jersey, people lean toward lawns, but Jones is finding an increasing number of clients want their yards to look natural to encourage more wildlife.
Sometimes, he said, the neighborhood is the driving factor when people want to screen out an objectionable view or buffer noise from the roadway.
He has little use for grass himself. "I don't like to spend my weekend mowing lawns," he said.
pollution from lawns The wide expanse of lawn is under attack by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which maintains a Web site on lawn care's environmental black eye.
About one-third of the water used in the eastern United States is sprinkled on lawns, according to the government agency. The average homeowner uses too much fertilizer and pesticide, often at rates 10 times that of farmers, the EPA says. That contributes to water pollution.
Landscape equipment, such as mowers, blowers and trimmers, generate 10 to 30 times the emissions of a car per hour of operation.
The agency suggests reducing lawn size or eliminating lawns entirely, by creating beds of flowers and shrubs, planting wildflower meadows or hardy ground covers or by allowing the lawn to revert to woods.
Going natural, however, doesn't necessarily mean inexpensive or maintenance-free. The initial cost to put in perennials, trees, pathways and other landscaping can cost thousands of dollars, depending on how elaborate a design is and whether a professional landscaper is used.
But less grass typically means less watering and less work. Meanwhile, the initial expense can be offset in the long run by what it would have cost a homeowner to maintain a lawn. The EPA estimates the average one-acre lawn costs $ 700 and requires 40 hours of labor each year to maintain.
Plus, with natural landscaping, homeowners are helping the environment.
The landscaping at the home of Mark and Wendy Taylor in Evesham is meant to be animal-friendly. Their back yard is certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
The Taylors live in The Sanctuary, a development in the Pine Barrens that caused controversy because it was built near the dens of the endangered timber rattlesnake.
When builders cleared the site for their home, the Taylors asked them to save several stands of trees in the front yard.
About 75 percent of their one-acre property is wooded. They've added about $10,000 worth of mostly native, drought- tolerant trees and plants, such as holly, cypress, lilacs and pines.
A small, man-made pond attracts frogs, turtles, birds and deer. Goldfinches, bluebirds and cardinals are regular visitors. A family of bats dines on the mosquito population. Once, a timber rattlesnake slithered across the road in front of their home.
The Taylors think lawn is boring to look at.
"I don't need that much grass," said Wendy Taylor, who has plans to add more shrubs. "It's kind of an obsession with us."
In Pitman, Mimi Glass' yard is legendary for its diversity of plant life. She lets classes from a neighboring school tour her yard, a wooded lot in the middle of town. A native of the North Carolina Appalachians, Glass bought the property about 50 years ago because it had so many trees.
Over the years, she reduced the lot's grass by adding hundreds of plants, bulbs, shrubs and flowers. A pathway of grass leads visitors through her patch of woods. There are so many plants, visitors are given a two-page list of them all.
Her yard is a refuge for wild animals: squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, possums, birds and such. Once, a lost deer spent the night in her back yard.
Glass often sits by her kitchen window to watch the birds carry on in the bath or at the feeder. "It's neat to sit here and have breakfast with the birds, almost beak to nose," she said.
Then, there are those families who already live in the woods and would like to keep it that way.
John Watson, 36, grew up on Taunton Lake in Medford, where he now lives with his wife and three young daughters. There is no grass on his one-acre lakeside property, despite some debate on the subject in the household.
"I don't like the look of it," Watson said. "I don't like to maintain it. Where we live in particular, it's very natural and you see the laurels ... It's much more appealing to me than grass."
Though they live in the woods, others in Watson's neighborhood uproot the trees to clear room for a lawn. Watson wants to disturb the environment as little as possible.
"We have one of the very few, more natural lakes around," Watson said. "The fertilizer that people put on their lawns washes into the lake. The seaweed goes crazy over that."
Posted on Wed, May. 15, 2002
Voorhees is stung by DOT's reversal
The state had pledged that road upgrades for a retail site required township support. It sent a letter changing that.
By Will Van Sant
Inquirer Suburban Staff
VOORHEES - For a year, the state Department of Transportation promised that changes needed on Route 73 for a 190,000-square-foot retail outlet would not be approved without the township's support.
The department's position was a comfort to residents of the nearby 730-home Sturbridge Lakes community, who worried that the proposed traffic light and jug-handle turn between William Feather and Signal Hill Drives and the commercial development would have a devastating effect on their quality of life.
When they persuaded the Township Committee last year to rescind a letter of support for the road changes, the talk was of how citizens had the power to halt unwanted development.
But in an abrupt about-face last month, the Transportation Department wrote James L. Lott - an attorney for the developer, Newark-based ReNEWal Realty - and stated that township planning board approval of the site plan would suffice as "municipal approval for the project."
The letter, which was obtained by The Inquirer, is dated April 15. It was written five days after the planning board voted to approve the ReNEWal development.
On May 6, planning board solicitor Stuart Platt wrote to the department, advising it that the board is "not the municipal authority for Voorhees Township" and has no "jurisdiction or authority" to make a declaration of support for the road changes on Route 73.
"There's more than anger," said Ed Ferruggia, a member of the Sturbridge Lakes Homeowners Association, of the Department of Transportation's reversal. "We have serious questions as to the motivation behind the DOT's decision."
Despite repeated interviews and requests by The Inquirer for information, Transportation Department officials seem unable to account for their position on what constitutes township approval.
But a township official and another resident say they were told that lobbying by developers may have played a role.
Gary Finger, a member of the Township Committee, said he spoke with Aldo Genovesi - a case manager for the Transportation Department's bureau of major access permits - on Nov. 26 and was told that, consistent with department policy, there would be no approval for the road changes without township support.
Finger said he spoke with Genovesi again on Feb. 21 and was told that things had changed. ReNEWal and its attorneys, Finger said Genovesi told him, had been seeking assistance from the state Attorney General's Office regarding the project.
Genovesi, according to Finger, said his department had been advised by the Attorney General's Office to approve the road changes if the development got planning board approval, and to disregard the Township Committee's letter revoking support for the traffic light and jug handle.
"He said to me this is very unusual," Finger recalled.
Repeated calls to Genovesi for comment were not returned.
Sturbridge Lakes resident Pat Merkh said that she, too, had spoken with Genovesi, and that in a series of conversations in February had been told that ReNEWal lawyers were asking the Transportation Department to alter its position on the road changes and had elicited the involvement of the Attorney General's Office.
"Developers should not be able to do that," said Merkh, whose four-bedroom house is about 200 feet from the site of the proposed retail center. "It kind of makes me sick, to be perfectly honest."
When first contacted this month, John Dourgarian, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said he would not comment on discussions between his office and the attorney general because of "attorney-client privilege." In later conversations, he denied any exchange.
"I'm not aware of any legal counsel provided by the A.G.'s Office," he said last week.
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the attorney general, said his agency had issued no formal opinion to the Transportation Department, but added: "Legal advice may be another matter."
Robert Stang, a partner in ReNEWal, denied that attorneys for the developer or anyone with the company had met with the Attorney General's Office about the road changes.
Stang did say ReNEWal had met with the Transportation Department about the issue and thought a request for advice had been made to the Attorney General's Office.
Asked what brought about the change in the Transportation Department's position, Stang laughed and said: "I can't answer that."
Stang said his project, which calls for a variety of big-box stores and 993 parking spaces on the 26-acre site, would help the area by cleaning up an abandoned industrial site.
To residents such as Merkh, who moved to Sturbridge Lakes for its pastoral feel and numerous lakes, the project just means more traffic on already congested Route 73 and the threat of environmental damage.
"I'm afraid that it's going to have such an impact that the lakes will be ruined," she said. "My children swim in those lakes and fish in those lakes."
After the latest request for information regarding the Transportation Department's policy shift, spokesman Dourgarian said no final decision on approval had been made.
Transportation Commissioner James P. Fox, Dourgarian said, has decided to meet with township officials, developers and residents to deal with the issue in an open forum.
He said no date had been set for the meeting.
Contact Will Van Sant at 856-779-3815 or email@example.com.
Posted on Fri, Aug. 30, 2002
Program to save land adds a priority
By Angela Couloumbis
Inquirer Trenton Bureau
TRENTON - After years of criticism of the state's open-space program, Gov. McGreevey signed a bill yesterday that requires giving top priority to acquiring land in or near flood-prone and watershed areas.
State officials said that would get New Jersey out of the "catastrophic relief business" by preventing more development in flood-prone areas. It also will attempt to protect sensitive land essential to water supplies and resources, such as areas near reservoirs, major streams and wellheads.
"Protecting and preserving New Jersey's water resources is among the most basic of this state's obligations," McGreevey said. "Protecting our water supply is essential to our public health."
The law requires the Department of Environmental Protection to give three times the weight to properties that would protect water resources and twice the weight to flood-prone areas.
The law also requires the DEP to prepare a master plan for open-space acquisition. The plan will show where the state most needs to preserve water resources - particularly land essential to preserving clean and plentiful drinking-water supplies.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, called the law sound and necessary after several years of "haphazard or political" decisions on what land should be bought.
"There was a lack of strategic planning in the past. Under Whitman, the program was about quantity, not quality," Tittel said yesterday, referring to former Gov. Christie Whitman.
"But this law focuses the program," he said. "We're not going to be spending all our money buying property that isn't even in important areas."
In 1998, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to provide $1 billion over 10 years for open-space preservation through the Garden State Green Acres Preservation Trust Fund.
Since then, the program has been criticized by some environmentalists for not targeting environmentally sensitive land - and by McGreevey for favoring rural areas over more densely populated areas.
There also has been criticism that portions of the program gave favorable treatment to property owners with ties to Whitman.
McGreevey and other state officials said yesterday that the new law sets forth "a more thoughtful balance" in how decisions to preserve open space are made.
"This is a progressive piece of legislation," said Sen. Robert Smith (D., Middlesex), one of the law's sponsors. "We're seeing to it that the citizens are getting the biggest environmental bang for their dollar."
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 609-989-9016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, November 8, 2002
Penney's leaving Echelon Mall
By EILEEN SMITH
J.C. Penney is closing its store at Echelon Mall, the second anchor to vacate the mall in less than two years.
The department store will go out of business on or before Jan. 25, Penney's spokesman Quinton Crenshaw said Thursday. He said the retailer decided to give up on the store because it wasn't profitable.
"It had been underperforming for quite some time and we didn't see any chance for a turnaround any time soon," he said.
The decision came 22 months after Sears announced it was pulling the plug on its Echelon anchor after only two years of operation.
Shoppers at the JCPenney store, many of whom said they'd shopped there for years, were surprised to hear that a store they thought was doing just fine was about to close.
"I can't believe it," said Judy Jones. "That's awful. I raised my kids on clothes from Penney's."
A federal investigator from Somerdale, Jones said she's been shopping at Penney's for 30 years and considered it one of the more successful stores of its kind.
Sears was their competition here (the Echelon Mall) and Sears closed," Jones noted. "People here are Penney's customers."
But Kurt Barnard, author of the Montclair-based Barnard's Retail Trend Report, said the loss of the Sears customers hurt Penney's, too.
"Penney's is closing because it didn't get enough traffic," he said. "Echelon Mall didn't bring in that traffic."
Other shoppers spoke of the store as they would of an old friend, calling it reliable and reasonable.
"They have some trendy stuff," said Sondra Koroma, 49, of Lawnside, "but mostly they have classics that will carry you through a couple of seasons."
Koroma, a behavioralist who works with adults with special needs at the Bancroft School, suggested that Penney's emphasis on sturdy value may have hurt it.
"People today are so conscious of keeping up with the Joneses they disregard stability for what's new," she said. "They order cappuccino, not hot chocolate."
The store's 175 employees will be given the option of applying for transfers to other JCPenney stores. Severance packages also will be offered, with pay based on seniority, Crenshaw said.
Penney's plans to liquidate the store's inventory and will launch a going-out-of-business promotional campaign. The Plano, Texas-based retailer owns the 184,312-square-foot store here, but no decision has been made on what to do with the property.
"It will be put on the market, to sell it or possibly lease it," Crenshaw said. "There are a number of real estate options."
Sears also owned its anchor, a 140,000-square-foot space. That store remains vacant and has not been sold or leased.
Mall General Manager Dennis Deehan was not available for comment on what strategy the mall is taking in marketing those spaces. Echelon is owned by the Rouse Co. of Columbia, Md., which also owns the Cherry Hill and Moorestown malls.
The closing leaves Echelon with only two anchors, Boscov's and Strawbridge's department stores.
Sandwiched between upper-middle retailers such as Macy's and discounters such as Target in the retail hierarchy, Penney's operates 1,075 stores. The chain is selectively slicing underperforming stores, but Crenshaw said the Echelon closing isn't part of a larger downsizing. Penney's debuted at Echelon in July 1976.
"We've been at Echelon a long time and this was a very tough decision," Crenshaw said. "We have tremendous concern for our customers and our associates."
Staff writer Richard Pearsall contributed to this report. Reach Eileen Smith at (856) 486-2444 or at email@example.com
Posted on Fri, Nov. 15, 2002
South Jersey keeps limits on water use
The state did not lift the restrictions, as it did up north, because of low aquifers and dry wells.
By Tom Avril
Inquirer Staff Writer
New Jersey officials lifted water-use restrictions for the northern part of the state yesterday but left them in place in the south, citing depleted aquifers and record numbers of dry wells.
Above-average rain during the last two months has replenished the reservoirs and rivers that supply drinking water in the north. But the south is heavily dependent on wells that draw from underground aquifers, which take longer to recover from a drought.
Some South Jersey aquifers hadn't really recovered from the drought of 1998-99, and it could take years for them to recoup their losses, said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"Particularly for our residents in the southern part of the state, the water emergency remains very real," he said at a Trenton news conference.
The longer recovery is due in part to suburban sprawl, Campbell said - both because of demand from a bigger suburban population and because the paving of the suburbs prevents rainwater from seeping into the ground.
The continuing South Jersey water restrictions aren't much of a hardship this time of year. For example, lawns may be watered only every other day, but the lawn-watering season is largely over. Cars may be washed at residences only on weekends.
(Tougher restrictions remain in place across the river in Chester County, though Philadelphia and its other Pennsylvania suburbs are in the clear.)
In New Jersey, the biggest hardship may be for those with wells running dry. Campbell said 259 wells ran dry in October, about 80 more than average, and 300 did so in September, about 100 over average.
Though restrictions have been lifted in some areas, the entire state remains in a drought emergency.
This allows the state to continue certain other water-related measures, including a ban on pumping water from a Berlin Borough municipal well that was threatening wetlands and a controversial moratorium on running water lines to new houses in three Atlantic County communities: Egg Harbor, Galloway and Hamilton Townships.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said new regulations were needed to give state officials more latitude to take such steps.
"The rules are outdated and need to be changed," he said. "The only way they have any way of being able to do things is when an emergency is in place."
Contact Tom Avril at 215-854-2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Wed, Nov. 20, 2002
An industrial site gives way to a rare park — the result of Voorhees' first open-space purchase.
By Edward Colimore
Inquirer Staff Writer
From an overlook, all of John Connolly Memorial Park can be viewed. Taking in the scene are (from left) Debby Schwartz and Lori Volpe, both members of Voorhees environmental groups; Maureen Connolly, widow of the park’s namesake; and Connolly’s daughter, Erin Connolly Rosenbaum.
VOORHEES - The view of industrial buildings along Centennial Boulevard offers no clue of the transformation that's taken place just over the rise.
Only signs for John Connolly Memorial Park draw passers-by to a gravel road that runs past a former asphalt company and ends at scenic forests and fields.
Now, in and around a former sand and gravel pit, there are a jogging track, a playground, a gazebo, benches, picnic tables and dog runs.
"We're very happy with the end result," said Debby Schwartz, chairwoman of the Voorhees Environmental Commission. "It's hard to believe how beautiful it is compared to the way it looked before."
The idea of a multiuse park in densely populated Voorhees had been scoffed at by some residents. Land was too valuable, and developers were too powerful, they said.
But the township forged ahead with its first open-space purchase last year, and the park opened in September, with more improvements expected over time.
The $3.3 million acquisition of 50 acres on Centennial Boulevard led to the establishment of a green oasis in an area that had many sports fields but little open parkland. Lion's Lake, off Dutchtown Road near Route 73, is the only similar Voorhees park.
The purchase "prevents additional housing, which brings crowding, more schoolkids, and the need to expand schools," Township Administrator Charles F. Mann Jr. said. "We're trying to have a balanced community."
Lori Volpe, president of the Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance, a private environmental group, said the township needed to set aside more open space while it still had some.
Voorhees has grown from about 6,200 residents in 1970 to more than 28,000. About 90 percent of the land is developed.
"We started late in the game for establishing open space," Volpe said. "We've been paving over floodplains and losing habitat for wildlife."
The land - former home of the Lafferty Asphalt Co. - was purchased with $750,000 from the county, $500,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres program, and $500,000 from the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group that provides money to preserve open space, Mann said.
The township used $802,000 from its open-space fund to buy the 45 acres set aside for the park, Mann said. It also paid $736,000, raised through a bond issue not associated with open-space funds, to buy five adjacent acres for a yet-to-be-determined municipal function.
The park site, including 15 acres that were once part of an excavation pit, was developed over several months by making the most of what was on hand.
Asphalt milled from the resurfacing of nearby Echelon Road was laid down for a half-mile oval jogging and walking track. Excess soil from the development of a nearby girls' softball field was put down in the pit to provide the base for grass. And shredded leaves were used to help stabilize a sandy slope.
In the end, the rough-looking excavation pit was transformed into a beautiful park, albeit one hidden behind the vestiges of its past industrial use.
"It's unbelievable," said Joseph Hale, the township's engineer, municipal inspector and code enforcement officer, who oversaw the park's development. "Now you go out there and see people walking their dogs, kids on the playground, flying remote-controlled toy planes, and throwing footballs."
The park is becoming more popular as residents discover it, township officials said.
"It really taking shape," said John Mauer, supervisor of buildings and grounds for the township's Parks and Recreation Department. "People go by, see an asphalt company, and think nothing is going on.
"But when they pull onto the parking lot, get out of their car, and walk around, they see a park. They can go over to an overlook and gaze at the trees. It's been beautiful with the changing leaves."
Maureen Connolly, wife of the late John Connolly, the zoning officer whose name graces signs at the park, said she had been impressed by the land's transformation. She visited last week and said her husband "would have been thrilled. He loved this town."
Nicole Bordi, 31, of Voorhees, also visited the park last week. She took her 2-year-old son and his friend to the playground.
"I come here for the kids," she said. "But my husband comes out to run on the track four times a week. The park is really for everybody. I like it a lot."
Richard Masso, 29, of Voorhees, takes his dog, Codie, to the dog run. "We just found out about it and have been coming out the last couple of weeks," he said.
Hale said the township might make changes in the park over time, possibly paving the track with a smooth coat of asphalt and adding more playground equipment.
Voorhees officials also are entertaining ideas for the use of the ground occupied by the former asphalt company buildings. An indoor recreation or sports center - with weight-lifting equipment and a swimming pool - has been suggested for the site.
"The park is a work in progress," Mann said. "Different people have different thoughts."
Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or email@example.com.
Tue, Jan. 07, 2003
McGreevey creates transportation policy panel
By Jennifer Moroz, Inquirer Staff Writer
NEW BRUNSWICK - Saying that "highway expansion leads to more congestion," Gov. McGreevey today called for working with what the state already has rather than adding to it.
At what was billed as the state's first transportation conference, McGreevey also signed an executive order creating a special Blue Ribbon Commission to identify the most pressing transportation issues over the next 10 years - and ways to correct them.
The eight-member panel, to be made up of representatives of the public and chaired by the transportation commissioner, will be required to issue a report with recommendations early next year.
"The challenge for the next year is clear," said McGreevey, addressing an audience of about 1,000 from both the private and public sectors gathered at the Hyatt Regency. "We must plan carefully and set forth a transportation strategy for the next decade."
McGreevey further directed state transportation officials to come up with a plan to speed construction of priority projects, specifically those that ease congestion and target highway safety.
He emphasized that spending would be focused on improving current infrastructure - roads, bridges, rail lines - instead of expanding the system further.
The transportation budget already has been modified to reflect this "Fix it First" strategy - the same approach featured in the state's "Smart Growth" plan, which calls for the redevelopment of blighted areas over new construction to prevent sprawl. Funding levels for new transportation construction have been reduced from 20 percent to 4 percent.
"If we're trying to move people and ease congestion, we can't build more highways that will bring in even more congestion," said acting transportation commissioner Jack Lettiere. "We have to be intelligent about where we put our funds."
This year, transportation officials have a capital budget of about $2.5 billion.
They estimate there are another $5 billion worth of needed projects the state won't be able to get to over the next five years.
Already, New Jerseyans collectively waste an estimated 261 million hours because of congestion. And things can only get worse over the next 20 years, when another one million residents are expected to join the 8.4 million who already live here.
A main talking point today was how to "sell" transportation in tough economic times.
Federal legislators, who hold the purse strings to roughly half the state's transportation capital budget, are expected to consider new funding levels as early as a few months from now.
And the State Transportation Trust Fund, which is fed in large part by the state's gasoline tax, comes up for renewal next year. That fund this year is contributing $1 billion toward capital projects.
State officials at the conference said that they hoped that by developing a list of priority projects - showing people where their money is going and why specifically it is needed - the public and the legislators they represent would be convinced, too.
John Wisniewski, Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, pointed to projects such as the South Jersey Light Rail as reasons why the public might be leery. Wisniewski's Democratic colleagues have described the high-speed rail line, which is being built between Camden and Trenton at an estimated cost of $1 billion, as a Republican boondoggle.
Said Wisniewski: "People have to be convinced that their transportation dollars will be used wisely."
Inquirer Staff Writer Jennifer Moroz can be reached at 856-779-3810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Wed, Jan. 08, 2003
Governor steers N.J. away from road expansion
He also created a panel to anticipate the next decade's transportation concerns.
By Jennifer Moroz, Inquirer Staff Writer
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Saying that "highway expansion leads to more congestion," Gov. McGreevey yesterday called for working with what the state already has rather than adding to it.
At what was billed as the first in an annual series of state transportation conferences, McGreevey also signed an executive order creating a blue-ribbon commission to identify the next decade's most pressing transportation issues - and ways to address them.
The panel, consisting of seven representatives of the public and chaired by the state transportation commissioner, will be required to issue recommendations in early 2004.
"The challenge for the next year is clear," McGreevey told about 1,000 developers, environmentalists, labor representatives and government officials at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. "We must plan carefully and set forth a transportation strategy for the next decade."
McGreevey further directed state transportation officials to come up with a plan to speed construction of priority projects. He emphasized that spending would be focused on improving existing infrastructure - roads, bridges, rail lines - instead of expansion.
The transportation budget already has been modified to reflect this "Fix it first" strategy - the same approach featured in the state's "smart growth" plan, which aims to prevent sprawl by favoring redevelopment of blighted areas over new construction. Funding for new transportation construction has been reduced from 20 percent of the capital budget to 4 percent.
"If we're trying to move people and ease congestion, we can't build more highways that will bring in even more congestion," acting Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere said. "We have to be intelligent about where we put our funds."
This year, transportation officials have a capital budget of about $2.5 billion. If spending levels remain constant, they estimate, there are an additional $5 billion worth of needed projects that the state won't be able to get to over the next five years.
Already, state officials said, commuters in New Jersey collectively waste an estimated 261 million hours a year sitting or crawling in traffic. And they said things could only get worse in the next 20 years, when an additional one million people are expected to join the 8.4 million who already live in the state.
A main talking point yesterday was how to "sell" transportation in tough economic times.
Federal lawmakers, who appropriate roughly half the state's transportation capital budget, are expected to consider new funding levels in the next few months.
And the state Transportation Trust Fund, which is fed in large part by the state's gasoline tax, comes up for renewal next year. This year, that fund is contributing $1 billion toward capital projects.
State officials at the conference said they hoped that by developing a list of priority projects - showing people where their money is going and why specifically it is needed - legislators and the public they represent would be convinced of a need for more funding.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, pointed to projects such as the Southern New Jersey Light Rail Transit System as reasons the public might be leery. Democrats have described the rail line, being built between Camden and Trenton at an estimated cost of $1 billion, as a Republican boondoggle.
Said Wisniewski: "People have to be convinced that their transportation dollars will be used wisely."
Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 856-779-3810 or email@example.com.
Portion of Governor McGreevey's State of the State address related to sprawl 1-14-03
At every turn we have treated the symptoms but not the root cause. But these are not separate and distinct problems.
They are the result of a chain reaction set off by uncontrolled development.
For years, all over New Jersey we thought if we built one more road, one more mall, one more housing development, our problems would be solved. The truth is -- that is the problem.
There is no single greater threat to our way of life in New Jersey than the unrestrained, uncontrolled development that has jeopardized our water supplies, made our schools more crowded, our roads congested, and our open space disappear.
And the irony is that the very promise that this development would lower our property taxes has turned out to be false.
In fact, the opposite is true. Runaway development drives up our property taxes, it doesn't lower them.
We cannot; we must not; we will not let this trend continue. Because if we do, the very appeal that our state has held for decades for aspiring middle class families will evaporate before our eyes.
At the dawn of the last century, President Teddy Roosevelt saw what unchecked logging and development were doing to our national landscape.
He took on the special interests and created a national forest system that preserved our forests from destruction and introduced an ethic of conservation.
At the dawn of this century, New Jersey faces a similar and even more urgent challenge.
Will we take on the special interests, and finally end the cycle of unchecked development that is destroying our quality of life?
We must do this right, we must do this smart, we must do this together, and we must do it now.
We must find the will to stop development that costs more than it saves, takes more than it gives, and that diminishes our lives and degrades our surroundings.
Every day in New Jersey we lose 50 acres to uncontrolled, thoughtless development -- 50 acres every single day which we will never get back.
It is time to draw the line and say "no more" to mindless sprawl.
We must make our government a force for change rather than an instrument that is misused to enable more and more misplaced development.
Here's how senseless development is in this State:
New Jersey is the most congested State in the Nation. But under our laws, a local town cannot even consider the impact of additional traffic when it reviews new development.Here is another example of just how rigged the system is against our communities:
Wealthy developers use their deep pockets and expensive legal talent to take towns to court if those towns dare oppose their development efforts.
They can effectively bully unwilling taxpayers into submission.
For too long towns across this State with limited resources have been on their own.
I want to recognize Mayor Jay Weeks from Lebanon Township. His town was bullied and he had no one on his side.
Today, they have the full legal weight of the State's Attorney General, and towns across this State will be given the legal firepower from our administration to fight developers when they need it.
Too often the law doesn't allow communities to protect their own taxpayers. So I will propose empowering towns with the legal and zoning tools to control and manage their future development.
No longer will communities be forced to stand helplessly by while inappropriate and unwanted development occurs.
No tool is more important to a mayor than the ability to say "no". So I will propose allowing municipalities to impose a one year building moratorium.
The message should be absolutely clear: If you want to build in over-developed or protected areas we will do everything in our power to stop you.
However, if you want to build and grow consistent with smart growth, then we will help you get regulatory approvals quickly and make sure the infrastructure is there to support you.
That means we will have one State map that we will live by and not one dollar of taxpayer money will be spent to subsidize sprawl anymore.
We will have rules and regulations that say "no" to development in all the wrong places and "yes" to development that works for communities.
The days of builders saddling taxpayers with the costs of development are over.
We will establish impact fees so that developers, instead of local taxpayers, bear the burden for the cost of added roads and new schools.
Let me say to those who profit from the strip malls and McMansions -- if you reap the benefits, you must also take responsibility for the costs.
We must recognize that the consequences of development don't end at the border of one town.
If we are going to truly control development, we must look for regional solutions.
It can no longer be acceptable to let one town develop as it pleases to the detriment of its neighbors.
We must have a mechanism to plan and control regional growth.
The answer isn't to create more layers of government, but to make County and regional planning authorities more effective and professional.
This should be part of a larger effort to work on a regional level to plan better, save costs, and share services.
I want to thank Majority Leader Roberts for his efforts here.
The answer to congestion and sprawl isn't only saying "No". We must make our urban centers, older suburbs, and rural towns more viable and attractive by redeveloping brownfields and steering infrastructure spending to these areas.
Farmland preservation is vital to ensuring a way of life in our rural areas.
I am committed to a goal of preserving 20,000 acres of farmland a year.
However, open space is not just a rural issue. For too long, our suburban and urban park system was allowed to deteriorate.
Our state park system has not been expanded in seven years. Thousands of New Jersey families are turned away from parks every year because of overcrowding.
Today I am setting a goal of creating or upgrading 200 local parks and adding at least two state parks in the next three years. We will also plant 100,000 new trees across the Garden State.
In addition, we must seize the moment to preserve one of our most precious and largest undeveloped natural areas, the mountainous Highlands of northwest New Jersey.
The Highlands, which provides one-third of New Jersey's drinking water, is being consumed by sprawl, and if we fail to act now, the opportunity may be lost forever.
I have asked Treasurer McCormac to reform the open space bonding process to stretch our open space dollars without increasing debt.
We will be able to devote at least an additional $100 million over the next three years -- fully a 15 percent increase -- to open space protection.
The Treasurer also will implement a limited time capital gains tax waiver for those landowners who sell their property to our open space program, creating a new incentive for conservation, and effectively lowering the price for the state to buy threatened land.
I know what I have outlined here will not be easy to pass. There will be vested interests lined up across this State and outside that door to oppose us. The pressure will be enormous. But we cannot turn back or postpone this battle.
It is the fight that will define and shape the New Jersey we leave behind for our children and grandchildren.
It is the fight that will define who we are, what we stand for, and who we are willing to oppose.
It's a fight we must win.
Even as we fight to shape the future landscape of our state, we must also focus on those issues that have strained our cost of living for too long.