The opening stage of what could prove to be a lively debate over what land in New Jersey should be targeted for development or preservation began Tuesday at the State Planning Commission.
The commission heard from both property owners and planning groups that offered different visions for how land should be developed.
State officials presented criteria on how land will be classified, emphasizing developing land near infrastructure while preserving environmentally sensitive land.
But property owners have expressed concern that the plan would impinge on their rights. George A. Gallenthin III, of Woodbury, expressed frustration with government land-use regulations, saying the state plan would limit "the sovereignty of the landowner." He said government officials blocked his plans for a 63-acre parcel near the port in Paulsboro.
New Jersey Builders Association officials declined to comment on the plan, saying that the association is still formulating its position on it.
Gerry Scharfenberger, director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy, said the draft plan has received a positive response from both developers and municipal officials.
The criteria appropriately encourage development near existing infrastructure, according to Chris Sturm, senior director of state policy for planning organization New Jersey Future.
"In general, it's a positive approach," she said, adding that her organization would like to see the state limit "priority growth investment areas" to parcels in updated sewer service areas.
She also expressed concern about a state proposal to give development priority to land within a half-mile of state highways.
Scharfenberger emphasized that the criteria are still a rough draft, and that changes will be made to them based on feedback from the public. He also fought off concerns by residents that the draft state strategic plan is related to "Agenda 21," a United Nations sustainable development initiative that is opposed by some property owners.
"I want to say for the record, unequivocally, that in no way, shape or form is this plan related to Agenda 21," Scharfenberger said, adding that the plan would allow local officials "to control their own development destiny without a mandate from Trenton."
The commission plans to hold six public hearings on the draft plan. They will be on Feb. 13, at Stockton College, in Galloway; Feb. 16, Gloucester County Administration Building, Clayton; Feb. 23, the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Newark; Feb. 27, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morris Township; Feb. 28, Monmouth University, West Long Branch; and March 1, Rutgers EcoComplex, Bordentown. Each meeting will begin at 6 p.m.