Mahwah October 28, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES IV • Page 3 Township leans toward Highlands plan by Frank J. McMahon The majority of the Mahwah Council’s members want to conform to the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) Regional Master Plan that was approved by the Highlands Council in July 2008. The Highlands Council was formed in 2004 as a result of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (Highlands Act) that was signed into law in August 2004 to preserve open space and protect the state’s diversity of natural resources including the water resources that supply drinking water to more than half of the state’s residents. In a non-binding straw poll of the council, five members indicated they favor “opting-in” to the plan. Two council members and Mayor Richard Martel indicated they need more information before they would support the Highlands Regional Master Plan and give up some of the township’s control over its zoning in order to obtain a more favorable obligation for affordable housing in Mahwah. The council recently held a special meeting on the subject and heard a presentation by Joseph Burgis, the township’s professional planner, on the pros and cons of opting-in to the Highlands Council Regional Master Plan. Burgis advised that, according to that plan, Mahwah is divided into a preservation area and a planning area. The portion of Mahwah west of Ramapo Valley Road (Route 202) is in the preservation area and the land east of that road and east of the southern portion of Route 287 is in the planning area. The fundamental distinction between the two areas is that municipal and county conformance with the Highlands Council Regional Master Plan is required in the preservation area, but is voluntary in the planning area. Burgis pointed out that opting into the plan would provide the township with a strong presumption of validity of its master plan and legal protection by the Highlands Council if the township were ever sued by a developer. The township would also be eligible for grants to pay for some of the amendments that must be made to the township’s master plan in order to conform to the Highlands Council Regional Master Plan. In addition, the township’s affordable housing obligation that has been set by the Council on Affordable Housing at 783 would be reduced to 72 because of the more stringent development requirements of the Highlands plan, such as increased buffer areas and restrictions on building on steep slopes. Burgis said those 72 units would be reduced to zero because of the affordable housing credits the township has accumulated. Burgis said, however, that if the township opts-in, it would be obligated to maintain its plans and ordinances in conformance with the regional master plan, obtain the approval of the Highlands Council before adopting any ordinances or regulations relating to the regional master plan, and get authorization from the Highlands Council before giving local approval to certain types of land use applications. During the discussion, Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio pointed out that opting-in to the plan would cause the township to lose some control and have another layer of government looking over its shoulder, but not opting-in would increase the number of affordable housing units the township is obligated to provide. Council President John DaPuzzo emphasized that developers are entitled to build four times the COAH obligation for the township, which he said, “would destroy our school system and taxes would go through the roof.” William Krane, a James Brite Circle resident and a developer who said he owns land in the Highlands area, voiced concern about ceding control to an environmental group whose sole objective is protecting the environment. He voiced skepticism about the lower number of affordable housing units the township would be obligated to provide (continued on page 21) Branching out Through the generosity of the Toshiba Corporation and the NJ Tree Foundation, five American elm trees were donated to the Lenape Meadows School in Mahwah. A ceremony was held to celebrate the tree plantings. The students sang a song about the earth, then read and acted out a tree poem. Ceremonial dirt was thrown on the trees to celebrate the school’s commitment to ‘going green.’ Pictured are Toshiba Corporation representatives with Lenape Meadows Principal Christine Zimmermann, Lenape Green Meadows Chair Laura Spain, and students throwing the ceremonial dirt onto one of the elm trees donated to the school. ������������������������������������������� ������������������ ������������������� ���������������������� ���������������������� ��������������������� ��� ����� ����� �������� ����� ��� ������ ���� ���������� ��� ������� ���� ���������������������������������� �������������������������������� ������������������������������������ �������������� �������������������������� �������������������������������������������