Sunday, March 16, 2008

Developer Led Plan to Skirt DEP Rules

The NJ Department of Community Affairs is planning an end run around new DEP environmental rules to protect waterways from rampant housing developments.

The report, obtained by The Star-Ledger, says current environmental rules are skewed against builders....But environmentalists say the advisory panel's proposals would eliminate safeguards that have kept housing sprawl in check, to some degree, for years.

DCA Commissioner Joseph Doria has called for relaxing environmental rules to build more affordable housing, but Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson is strongly opposed.
"Affordable housing must be done in an environmentally sensitive manner," Jackson said. "I have heard a lot of people complain they can't build on flood plains. They tell me it is the only land left. Building affordable housing there would be morally wrong."

The findings are from one of six subcommittees that report to DCA's Housing Policy Task Force. Doria is expected to present Corzine a final affordable housing plan during the spring.

The report suggests requiring state and local governments decide quickly when developers seek to build -- and automatically to approve projects if no decision is made within 90 days.

It calls for rewriting DEP rules to make them "flexible" and giving the state Planning Commission the power to override DEP rules and local laws. It would also prevent DEP from stopping construction within 300 feet of a waterway if the area was developed in the past, and allow sewer line construction in environmentally sensitive areas.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, charged the process of developing housing policy has been hijacked by builders. There are no environmental activists on the six subcommittees.

"The DCA is trying to take over the DEP ... and is using the state Planning Commission as a weapon to weaken environmental protection and tell towns how to grow," he said. "This is a coup by the Builders Association to take over land use. Many of the recommendations violate federal law, overturn decades of New Jersey environmental law. Many are unconstitutional."

Jackson said her DEP must have a role in future discussions.

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