The Green Acres Program May Help Improve the Quality of Life in Your Community
During difficult economic times, quality of life improvements in a community are often overlooked as they take a back seat to more pressing budget demands. However, during times of depressed real estate and land values there is a prime opportunity to acquire land for recreational or conservational purposes that can build long-term investment potential and enhance the quality of life in your community.
Despite the fact that the depressed real estate market in much of the State has provided unfavorable conditions for private real estate development, it provides an opportunity for municipalities to acquire land at a cheaper rate for the development of recreational facilities and open space conservation.
Additionally, there are several opportunities through the New Jersey Green Acres program to facilitate the conservation and redevelopment of land for recreational and open space uses. The Green Acres program, under the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), is accepting applications until February 15, 2012 for many of the programs listed below. The following provides a summary of eligible activities under the grant programs offered. If you or your community is interested in submitting an application, consult your grant team immediately.
To begin, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of the five focus areas under the NJDEP Green Acres Program. They consist of: State Park and Open Space Acquisition; Local Governments and Nonprofit Funding; Stewardship and Legal Services; Planning and Information Management; and Office of Natural Resource Restoration. These program areas are supported by the Green Acres Survey Section, and supplemented by the New Jersey Trails System.
(1) The State Park and Open Space Acquisition – This department handles all of the land acquisitions through private land sales to the Green Acres Program or through donations or bequeaths. This department also allocates all management of the land to the appropriate State department. The “Inland Blue Acres” department purchases land near flood prone areas to mitigate continued loss from floods. This department also manages all of the federal Pinelands funding allocation, as well as the “Limited Practical Use Initiative” which offers relief for homeowners in the Pinelands who own less than 50 acres and have been denied practical use of their property due to the Pinelands density restrictions. When utilizing this program be sure to also inform your residents of this program as many homeowners may be interested in bequeathing land or selling land through the Green Acres program in your community.
(2) Local Government and Non-Profit Funding – This Green Acres department offers a variety of programs, from funding to tax abatements, in order to encourage open space and recreational development. This department also offers low interest loans and grants to municipal and county governments to acquire open space and develop outdoor recreation facilities. Green Acres staff can help your community facilitate the process. Under this program, over 80,000 acres have been protected and hundreds of recreation development projects have been financed. Green Acres provides matching grants to nonprofit organizations to acquire land for public recreation or conservation purposes. The Planning Incentive Program provides grant and loan funding to local governments that have enacted an open space tax and have adopted an open space and recreation plan. If your community has not created this plan, contact Green Acres or the planning department about starting this process. The Tax Exemption Program provides exemption from local property taxes to eligible nonprofit organizations that own recreation or conservation lands and permit public use of their private lands.
(3) Stewardship and Legal Services – This department of Green Acres facilitates the compliance aspect of all lands that are designated Green Acres under the regulations. It also maintains the Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) and handles all resident complaints or comments about preserved park lands and open space.
(4) Planning and Information Management – This department provides open space and recreation planning guidance and technical assistance for open space acquisition and development efforts to municipal, county and nonprofit organizations. The Planning and Information Management Department also provides Geographical Information Systems Services for open space in the State.
Additionally, this department administers the Land and Water Management Fund, a federally funded program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service. This program, which is currently calling for applications under the 2013 funding year, purchases land at fair market value from willing sellers, or at below market value if the seller is offering it at below market value (sometimes in exchange for a tax write-off). Land that is considered for purchase includes land reserved for: recreational opportunities, clean water preservation, wildlife habitat preservation, enhancement of scenic vistas, archeological and historical sites protection or maintaining the pristine nature of wilderness areas.
(5) Office of Natural Resource Restoration – This department oversees the restoration of wildlife and natural habitat when a natural disaster occurs.
In addition to the aforementioned programs The NJDEP’s Green Acres Program also administers the New Jersey Trails program. Through the Federal Highway Administration, grants are available for trails or the extension of trail systems. This funding was made available under the Federal Highway Transportation Act. Projects under this program are reviewed and recommended for funding under the New Jersey Trails Council.
With a sluggish economy and financially strapped communities, new recreational opportunities may not be a funding priority of local government. However, taking advantage of the State Green Acres programs and currently depressed land values can help facilitate any recreational projects that are currently on the back burner as a result of limited funding. Furthermore, developing additional recreational opportunities and open space will improve quality of life and potentially boost demand for new projects and other opportunities in your community, along with future property values.
Published January 3, 2012.
Triad Associates is currently the League’s Grant Consulting Firm. Their firm, which is known for its expertise in community and economic development, including strategic planning, redevelopment, acquisition, relocation and funding, has brought diverse plans and projects to life by generating more than $580,000,000 for over 120 public, private and nonprofit clients throughout the Northeast region since 1978. Every member of the Triad team is personally committed and dedicated to the success of its clients and the projects that benefit communities.
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