407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

Photo - Pat Gillespie

What is the Role of the Smart
Growth Ombudsman?


Patrick M. Gillespie
Smart Growth Ombudsman


Traditionally, the relationship between the building community and environmentalists in New Jersey has been much like the Hatfields and McCoys – and local governments are often thrust into the middle of these disputes as they relate to local planning and zoning decisions. As the state’s new Smart Growth Ombudsman, I find myself in a similar situation, trying to find a balance between protecting public health and the environment while providing for growth in the state’s older urban and suburban areas.

Rather than spend my time acting like the referee in a steel cage wrestling match, I plan

Photo - see caption below
The Smart Growth Ombudsman will be working with the League and other stakeholders in the process as the state continues down the road to smart growth.

to try to find common ground between the two sides and promote the sound planning principles contained in the State Plan for Development and Redevelopment. I have a clear mandate from Governor Richard Codey to work with all sides in this debate and I plan to do so.

The position of Smart Growth Ombudsman was created by the Legislature as part of the “Smart Growth Act” Public Law 2004, chapter 89, which also provides for streamlined permitting process for state permits issued by the Departments of Transportation, Community Affairs and Environmental Protection within Smart Growth areas. My office, in addition to having a role in this process, also reviews proposed administrative rules to determine their consistency with the goals and objectives of the State Plan.

The enactment of this law was rather controversial. It came on the heels of the preservation of the state’s northern Highlands region, and the perception among many in the public was that state policymakers were on one hand preserving thousands of acres from development, while on the other, permitting the rampant over-development of the rest of New Jersey.


I look forward to working with the League
and the other stakeholders in this process as
we continue down the road to smart growth.


The substance of the Smart Growth law is rather different. When viewed over the longer history of New Jersey’s land use policy, this law is not a radical departure from that tradition. In 1985, the Legislature and the Governor enacted the State Planning Act. In 1992, the state adopted the first State Plan for Development and Redevelopment. According to these two documents, state policymakers at every level should be using the State Plan as a guide to encourage growth in the state’s Metropolitan Planning Areas, designated centers and provide for better-planned growth in the suburbs. The other half of this equation is that New Jersey should not adopt policies or make investment decisions that promote the development of the state’s rural and environmentally sensitive areas.

The Whitman and McGreevey administrations both took deliberate steps to curb sprawl by using the State Plan to limit state investment and permitting decisions that promoted growth in the fringe planning areas. The logical extension of that policy is to take the next step and have official state policies that promote growth in the places the State Plan has designated for growth. It just makes good sense that in order to preserve open space and farmland, the state needs to ease development pressure on those rural areas by steering growth to the planning areas that have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate that growth.

Contrary to some misperceptions, my position and this law do not allow for the state to override local planning and zoning decisions. The law did not amend the “Municipal Land Use Law” in any way. The proposed streamlining of permits applies to state permits only and not to subdivision or site plan approvals. Local governments remain the governmental entity charged with the responsibility to plan the future growth of their communities and to determine not only the intensity of land use, but also the appropriate land uses in their communities. The clear division between state permits and local land use approvals remains untouched by the Smart Growth Act.

Local officials remain a critical part of the process and a vital part of determining the overall regulatory framework for land use policy. A critical part of the State Planning process in which local and state officials interact is the cross acceptance process outlined in the State Planning Act. In this process, local and state officials determine in a collaborative manner what areas of New Jersey will carry which planning area designation.

I understand that, as a result of the Smart Growth Act, interest among local officials in the classification of their communities under the State Plan is at an all time high. Participation in the cross acceptance process and an intense review of proposed planning area designations by county and local planners has taken on added meaning. This is one of the positive outgrowths of this new law. For local officials, other than public safety and your local budget, the most critically important decisions a governing body can make are those involving land use, planning and zoning matters. Participation in the cross acceptance process is a key part of this obligation.

Governor Codey and I will work in partnership to ensure that this dialog continues and that local officials take an active role in the process. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities has been a forceful advocate on behalf of local governments on all these issues. I look forward to working with the League and the other stakeholders in this process as we continue down the road to smart growth.

NJLM - Smart Growth Ombudsman

407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

Photo - Pat Gillespie

What is the Role of the Smart
Growth Ombudsman?


Patrick M. Gillespie
Smart Growth Ombudsman


Traditionally, the relationship between the building community and environmentalists in New Jersey has been much like the Hatfields and McCoys – and local governments are often thrust into the middle of these disputes as they relate to local planning and zoning decisions. As the state’s new Smart Growth Ombudsman, I find myself in a similar situation, trying to find a balance between protecting public health and the environment while providing for growth in the state’s older urban and suburban areas.

Rather than spend my time acting like the referee in a steel cage wrestling match, I plan

Photo - see caption below
The Smart Growth Ombudsman will be working with the League and other stakeholders in the process as the state continues down the road to smart growth.

to try to find common ground between the two sides and promote the sound planning principles contained in the State Plan for Development and Redevelopment. I have a clear mandate from Governor Richard Codey to work with all sides in this debate and I plan to do so.

The position of Smart Growth Ombudsman was created by the Legislature as part of the “Smart Growth Act” Public Law 2004, chapter 89, which also provides for streamlined permitting process for state permits issued by the Departments of Transportation, Community Affairs and Environmental Protection within Smart Growth areas. My office, in addition to having a role in this process, also reviews proposed administrative rules to determine their consistency with the goals and objectives of the State Plan.

The enactment of this law was rather controversial. It came on the heels of the preservation of the state’s northern Highlands region, and the perception among many in the public was that state policymakers were on one hand preserving thousands of acres from development, while on the other, permitting the rampant over-development of the rest of New Jersey.


I look forward to working with the League
and the other stakeholders in this process as
we continue down the road to smart growth.


The substance of the Smart Growth law is rather different. When viewed over the longer history of New Jersey’s land use policy, this law is not a radical departure from that tradition. In 1985, the Legislature and the Governor enacted the State Planning Act. In 1992, the state adopted the first State Plan for Development and Redevelopment. According to these two documents, state policymakers at every level should be using the State Plan as a guide to encourage growth in the state’s Metropolitan Planning Areas, designated centers and provide for better-planned growth in the suburbs. The other half of this equation is that New Jersey should not adopt policies or make investment decisions that promote the development of the state’s rural and environmentally sensitive areas.

The Whitman and McGreevey administrations both took deliberate steps to curb sprawl by using the State Plan to limit state investment and permitting decisions that promoted growth in the fringe planning areas. The logical extension of that policy is to take the next step and have official state policies that promote growth in the places the State Plan has designated for growth. It just makes good sense that in order to preserve open space and farmland, the state needs to ease development pressure on those rural areas by steering growth to the planning areas that have the infrastructure necessary to accommodate that growth.

Contrary to some misperceptions, my position and this law do not allow for the state to override local planning and zoning decisions. The law did not amend the “Municipal Land Use Law” in any way. The proposed streamlining of permits applies to state permits only and not to subdivision or site plan approvals. Local governments remain the governmental entity charged with the responsibility to plan the future growth of their communities and to determine not only the intensity of land use, but also the appropriate land uses in their communities. The clear division between state permits and local land use approvals remains untouched by the Smart Growth Act.

Local officials remain a critical part of the process and a vital part of determining the overall regulatory framework for land use policy. A critical part of the State Planning process in which local and state officials interact is the cross acceptance process outlined in the State Planning Act. In this process, local and state officials determine in a collaborative manner what areas of New Jersey will carry which planning area designation.

I understand that, as a result of the Smart Growth Act, interest among local officials in the classification of their communities under the State Plan is at an all time high. Participation in the cross acceptance process and an intense review of proposed planning area designations by county and local planners has taken on added meaning. This is one of the positive outgrowths of this new law. For local officials, other than public safety and your local budget, the most critically important decisions a governing body can make are those involving land use, planning and zoning matters. Participation in the cross acceptance process is a key part of this obligation.

Governor Codey and I will work in partnership to ensure that this dialog continues and that local officials take an active role in the process. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities has been a forceful advocate on behalf of local governments on all these issues. I look forward to working with the League and the other stakeholders in this process as we continue down the road to smart growth.