Red Tape Committee
Helps Jumpstart Grounded
By William Pikolycky
The Borough of Woodbine has sought to redevelop its airport property for the last 10 years. Along with the Woodbine Municipal Airport Port Authority, the borough has focused on both developing a business park and improving airport facilities. One obstacle had been the
airport’s location in
the Pinelands region, where restrictions on development abound.
When we heard about the state’s new Red Tape Commission, I, as Mayor, immediately began a
dialogue with the offices
of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Commissioner Bob Martin of the Department of Environmental Protection. Because of the potential benefits to accrue to the Airport and Airport Business Park, we also coordinated our efforts with Commissioner James Simpson from the Department of Transportation. Our detailed explanation of our concerns in a chronological and historical context brought considerable attention to Woodbine’s dilemma—one that resulted in a commitment of the lieutenant governor and the DEP to work with the Pinelands Commission, to achieve a solution. Their work enabled Woodbine to aggressively promote its airport and Airport Business Park.
The result was that, in less than six months, an otherwise protracted process extending over several years was brought to a conclusion. In effect, areas within the airport have been delineated as no longer adversely impacting threatened and endangered species and, therefore, require no further study. Now the borough is able to aggressively pursue private sector business and industry opportunities. Developers can be reassured that the process of securing permits is consistent with normal permitting of approximately 60-90 days through the local Planning and Zoning Board reviews.
That was quite a welcome change from the past. Long recognizing
the airport’s potential, the borough in conjunction with the Port Authority worked hard to secure the permits necessary to implement the goals in the Airport Master Plan. This included securing designation as a Pinelands Town/ Center of Place, a joint action by the Office of State Planning and
the Pinelands Commission. The designation recognized
Woodbine’s prior heritage
as a business and industrial hub in the Cape May County region.
The borough also pursued and received approval of its Water Quality Management Plan
and secured several grants to insure that an adequate potable
water supply would be
available to support development at the airport. In
addition, the borough combined regional, federal, and state funding, along with local resources, to construct an on-site public sanitary sewage treatment system employing state-of-the-art design standards to protect the pristine Pinelands.
After all these efforts, including numerous expensive threatened and endangered species studies and analyses, one would assume that this extraordinary resource could, in fact, begin to produce substantial returns to benefit the borough’s long-term economic future. However, the reality was continuing concerns by regulatory agencies that development would still have an impact on wildlife, vegetation, etc. Moreover, there did not appear to be any finite endpoint that would release the airport property from further environmental review. As a result, any private sector development would require a prospective business or industry to undertake independent permitting that could require as much as 18 to 24 months with no assurance that a permit to develop would be secured.
This despite the fact that this area has public water, sewers and roadways in place.
This experience was not only frustrating but also costly because of the projected need for additional studies. As the process dragged on, so did the wait for new private investment, new jobs, and ratables for the borough. This put additional stress on the borough’s already limited resources and local economy. Woodbine is among New Jersey’s top 10 percent of most distressed municipalities, with a Municipal Distress Index rating of 86 out of 566.
The borough applauds the governor’s commitment to streamline the permitting processes and the lieutenant governor’s hands-on participation in seeing to these goals being met. Special recognition is also warranted to Pinelands Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg and her staff, DOT Commissioner James Simpson and staff as well as DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and Assistant Commissioner Michele Siekerka and staff. They all worked together to review this issue and to present the Borough of Woodbine and the Woodbine Port Authority with an extraordinary opportunity for economic growth—all by cutting through red tape.
There remains a need to resolve the outstanding issues associated with the Countywide Water Quality Management planning process. In this regard, efforts are underway to either allow Woodbine to file its own updated plan or be among the first communities to be assessed through the county program. While this is still a major hurdle, based on this most recent success with DEP and Pinelands, we are confident that a timely strategy can be developed. It is comforting to know that we have the state on our side in regard to economic development.
As Mayor, I can confidently state: Woodbine is open for business!
Originally published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 88, Number 9, December 2011