A whole new world Meadowlands-area zoning plan approved
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jan 09, 2004 | 818 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In one of the most anticipated events in the recent history of the Hackensack watershed, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) approved Thursday a drastically changed Master Plan. The plan spells out development, transportation and preservation elements for the lower Hackensack River estuary over the next 25 years.

The results were not available at press time, but the proposal was expected to pass.

"This is an amazing moment," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan last week. "This is something that we have worked hard to get for more than a decade."

The master plan - a document significantly revised from the one that had been proposed for passage in 1995 - is the first comprehensive revision in more than 30 years, said NJMC Executive Director Robert R. Ceberio.

The NJMC's zoning rules apply to Meaowlands area properties, including 80 percent of Secaucus.

The master plan was first established in 1970 just after the Meadowlands Commission was established by state legislation but prior to the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972. During the 1980s, federal, state and environment agencies gathered together in an effort to make the Meadowlands Master Plan comply with federal law. In the early 1990s, a draft proposal was unveiled, drawing sharp criticism from some elements of the environmental community because the plan had a large development aspect that included filling of wetlands.

The master plan - then called the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) - was abandoned in 2001 when key public officials came out against it including Rep. Steve Rothman and then-Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. Sheehan, however, said a key moment in the battle over SAMP came when the U.S. Secretary of the Interior came to the Meadowlands for a tour.

Local Rep. Steve Rothman, joining Sheehan, called for the preservation of the remaining 8,400 acres of wetlands one of the central elements in the new master plan. Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs and NJMC chairperson, said the new plan will "serve as a blueprint for a re-greened Meadowlands and a revitalized urban landscape."

While not devoid of development, the new plan requires that wetlands be preserved, and that there be an emphasis on redeveloping underused or former industrial sites.

The new plan outlines several new and important goals, including preservation of existing wetlands, open space and the historical heritage of the Meadowlands, development only in upland areas, and adherence to the state's new anti-sprawl regulation by promoting redevelopment of brownfields. Brownfields are formerly contaminated sites.

Redevelopment will be a key fact in this plan. The NJMC will focus on cleaning up existing brownfields on which hazardous materials, pollutants and other contaminants have been dumped.

The plan would seek better transportation modes, with an emphasis on mass transit and the improvement of existing facilities. It would promote a balance of mixed housing types and open up the communication process to those communities affected.

Also in the plan

Transportation improvements in the new master plan include improvements in the area of the Secaucus Transfer Station to become a hub of transportation in the area and a possible tourist destination.

Under this plan, Route 1&9 in Jersey City, Paterson Plank Road in Secaucus and North Bergen and Meadowlands Parkway in Secaucus will be among the roads that receive priority funding from the NJMC when repairs are needed.

Bus service will also be provided from the new Secaucus Transfer station, offering NJ Transit and shuttle service to Hudson County and local employment centers.

Mayor Dennis Elwell said the new master plan will have a huge positive effect on Secaucus.

"Two years ago, I asked the Commission to look at zoning density for residential units," Elwell said.

Much of Secaucus is governed by the NJMC's zoning rules, many of which were different from the town's zoning roles. Builders could often construct buildings higher and could place more structures on small plots of NJMC-governed land than under the town's zoning regulations. This meant that a home on one side of a street might be allowed to go to one height, while a home on the other could not. Houses under the old plan could be constructed on smaller lots than those permitted under town regulations.

"The new master plan changes some of that," Elwell said.

Under the new master plan, wetlands are off limits for construction, forcing builders to reconsider areas that have seen previous development.

"This will have a very positive effect on Secaucus," Elwell said. "We could see our whole industrial area as a possible redevelopment zone with old warehouses being considered for new development."

Elwell said the new master plan came about because of a new cooperation between the Meadowlands Commission and municipal leaders.

"Everyone had a say in what went into this plan," Elwell said.

Sheehan gave significant credit to Ceberio for the new cooperative effort put forth by the commission.

"For many years, Bob had to work under other people and do what they told him to do," he said. "But when he became the head [executive director] of the commission, he started listening to people, and that helped change the way the commission operated. It was a very positive change and something that brought us to this master plan."
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