Pinelands Mandatory Clustering
The Pinelands Commission adopted amendments to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) in April 2009 which require mandatory clustering of residential development in the Pinelands Forest and Rural Development Areas. These amendments require clustering of residential development on one acre lots whenever two or more units are proposed in either of the two management areas, with the balance of the property permanently protected from development.
The idea is to protect habitat and not spread houses, lawns and roads evenly across forested properties. Pinelands municipalities are required to revise their certified master plans and land use ordinances to be consistent with these new rules by April 6, 2010.
Clustering is an excellent environmental site design requirement, and it is fair to landowners because it allows them to build the same number of units on their property as they could without the clustering rule. But the Pineland Preservation Alliance identified three major flaws with the rule as adopted by the Pinelands Commission:
- The rule favors giving developers bonus densities on clustered sites, so more units would be built and less open space protected than local zoning would provide. .
- Agricultural operations can continue and even expand after cluster development, resulting in further loss of natural habitats and water quality.
- The open space can be owned by an individual, adjacent land owner, making it very unlikely the restrictions on development will actually be enforced over time.
Municipalities have the opportunity to adopt ordinances that implement clustering but avoid these defects. PPA is providing all Pinelands municipalities with a model ordinance that meets Pinelands requirements while fixing these problems.
First, the provision for density bonuses leaves an opening for municipal cluster ordinances to provide a density bonus only in cases where the developer aggregates lots that were previously owned by different people.
Second, the extension of agricultural operation on shared open space can be limited if a town provides justification for limiting this use. For instance, if water quality is in jeopardy of being impaired as a result of a clustered development and continuing agricultural operation, the Pinelands Commission should approve the ordinance without the agricultural use and expansion language.
Third, the rule outlines a set of requirements for the ownership and deed of restriction of the open space within a clustered development. These requirements allow for several ownership options as long as the land is held with deed of conservation restriction in favor of the residents of the cluster development. A municipality can adopt an ordinance that requires the protected open space be owned only by the neighborhood association, a nonprofit conservation group or government agency, or the municipality itself.
The benefits of mandatory clustering are to prevent sprawling housing development without increasing the total number of units in the Forest and Rural Development zones, and to permanently protect large tracts of open space without allowing the clearing of forested open land to intensive uses such as housing, roads and farming. Clustering should not be used to force more housing and more water quality impacts on municipalities in Pinelands zones that are not supposed to be intensively developed.
What can you do:
Pinelands Preservation Alliance sent a letter to Pinelands municipalities to outline how a town can accomplish the legitimate goals of clustering and avoid the potential negative impacts.
- Download a copy of the letter.
- Bring a copy to the attention of your town council.
- Contact your local elected and appointed officials and ask that density bonuses, additional uses of open space, and individual, adjacent land ownership options for the open space is excluded from the ordinance language.
Please contact Jaclyn@pinelandsalliance.org if you have any questions.