TDR coordinator lists benefits of ‘Smart Growth’

As the population of New Jersey sprawls, the preservation of farmland and cultural and natural resources becomes a concern, one that Courtenay D. Mercer of the New Jersey Office of Smart Growth addressed last Thursday. She spoke at the “Smart Growth and the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in New Jersey” talk, giving students an understanding of TDR and her career.

Mercer is the TDR coordinator for the Department of Community Affairs’ office of Smart Growth. The office of Smart Growth was founded in 1986 and helps the state decide which areas are appropriate for growth and development.

This department has developed a “State Plan Map” with a color-coded system for determining whether a piece of land is a metropolitan or suburban area appropriate for development, or whether it is a rural/agricultural or environmental area that must be conserved.

Mercer explained how the office of Smart Growth brings different groups together to accomplish projects. Currently, the office is working on a “cross-acceptance process,” where both the state and local plans for a development are considered before making a compromise.

“Smart Growth” is defined as a mix of land uses and works to “accommodate growth where it’s appropriate,” Mercer said. Communities need to think about fixing their infrastructure rather than continually building anew.

TDR helps communities transfer development status from one area of a community to another. Rather than build new developments all over farmland, TDR tries to find other places that are acceptable for growth.

They try to condense the amount of growth in particular areas to preserve as many natural resources as possible, Mercer said.

However, TDR is not a “no-growth tool,” as Mercer stressed in her presentation.

Those working in the office of Smart Growth realize that not all land can be preserved, and that some development must occur. The important thing is to make sure that developments occur in logical places.

TDR also allows communities to make their own plans rather than have developers make plans for them, according to Mercer. This ensures that the community gets exactly what it wants and retains a certain character.

Mercer referenced Chesterfield Township in Burlington County and its new development.

With the help of TDR, this township was able to construct the development without destroying the community’s abundant farmland.

Chesterfield was also able to set up the new development so that it did not overwhelm the “18th century, colonial-type community” of the nearby Crosswicks development.

Mercer also gave the example of the new development in Washington Township.

Its community members were able to plan all its new developments themselves, so they were able to build exactly what they wanted.

For example, around 90 percent of the houses have porches, which is something that was important to the community members.

The area itself also has a “very walkable, very communal” feel, Mercer said.

Developers benefit from the TDR process as well, according to Mercer.

Since the actual members of the communities plan the designs themselves, the developers save time and money because they do not have to do this.

In addition, the developers save a lot of money in legal fees, because they do not have to fight over the designs with the community members.

By working with the office of Smart Growth and the TDR program, communities are able to save money and protect important land, such as farmland and historical sites, she said.