Highlands Plan beckons

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:09

    Borough studies whether to join; reserves right to opt out, By Mark J. Yablonsky FRANKLIN — The borough council is moving toward including itself in the Highlands Regional Master Plan. But at the same time, the borough has given itself wiggle room — so it can opt out. Franklin’s Council has approved a resolution authorizing its director of planning and community development to apply for a grant from the Highlands Council to study whether it should join the plan. Borough council has approved a resolution authorizing Jim Kilduff, director of planning and community development, to apply for the grant. The resolution gives the borough the option to later back out. Franklin must apply for funds to a plan conformance outline that lists seven modules, but it has “reserved (its) options to review the remainder of the grant after completing Module 3,” explained borough administrator Richard R. Wolak. The first two modules involve land use and resource capacity analysis, while the third requires the borough to prepare a housing element and fair share plan to the Highlands Council “for review prior to submission to COAH,” according to the grant outline released to the public at last week’s council meeting. There are, however, four following modules that could lock Franklin into the Highlands Plan. That would effectively curtail much or all future possible development in Franklin. The pause between the third and fourth modules represents the “fail safe point,” Wolak and other borough officials agreed. The first three modules could net the borough as much as $32,500 in non-refundable Highlands grant funding, without necessarily committing the borough “past the point of no return,” something the borough is well aware of. “As we go down the list, we get closer and closer to the point where they say, ‘you’re going to have to commit,’” acknowledged Mayor Paul Crowley. “(But) we are not committed and we don’t have to commit at this point.” If all seven modules are completed by the borough, it would receive at least $50,000 in Highlands grant money, including the $32,500 from the first three modules. Others, however, doubt that Franklin will go that far, including councilman Pat Barton, who said as much at the meeting. “In a way, we really don’t have enough information to say that,” said Crowley, pointing to the state Department of Environmental Protection bearing down on issuing water permits and sewage area inclusion as possible reasons the borough may eventually have little choice but to opt in to the Highlands plan, anyway. “We’re not bound to it; we don’t have to give any of the money back (at this point),” Crowley said. “I don’t agree with Pat that we’ll opt out. At this point, we need more information from that study. We’ll decide later whether to opt in or out.” What is the highlands Plan? The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act is a law signed in August 2004 that will preserve open space and protect the state’s greatest diversity of natural resources including the precious water resources that supply drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s families. The Highlands Act documents the geographical boundary of the Highlands Region and establishes the Highlands Preservation Area and the Highlands Planning Area. It required the department to establish regulations in the Highlands Preservation Area to create a Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council and to develop a regional master plan for the entire Highlands Region. (Source: The New Jersey Highlands Council)