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Officials table vote on state strategic plan

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State planning officials tabled a vote today on a new statewide blueprint for economic development and environmental preservation, citing the need to seek more public comment and incorporate goals that could help battered coastal areas rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.

The vote by the State Planning Commission was to follow months of public comment on the plan, which has been praised by business leaders for its goals of promoting New Jersey's top industries and infrastructure-rich economic hubs. The framework has also been blasted by environmental advocates, who cheered news of the delay.

Besides targeting growth sectors and regions, the so-called state strategic plan calls for more effective regional planning, preservation of state resources and tactical alignment of state agencies to carry out the goals. When unveiling the draft document more than a year ago, Gov. Chris Christie said the state sought to refine prior statewide planning efforts that he called "stratified, haphazard and unrealistic."

At today's meeting, the planning commission delayed its vote at the request of the state Office of Planning Advocacy, according to a statement from Gerry Scharfenberger, the agency's director. He told commissioners his office is still awaiting specific recommendations from some organizations, and that the storm disrupted efforts to finalize the document after its release on Friday.

Another reason for delaying the vote is that the goals of the plan "if adopted as proposed, could be a framework for the coastal region to recover and rebuild" the shore communities that were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, Scharfenberger said.

"All the answers won't be in the final document but the framework for the next steps would be in place," he said in the written statement. "OPA will be reviewing the objectives and strategies of all four goals and may recommend specific further additions or amendments with long term coastal recovery in mind."

The New Jersey Sierra Club, meanwhile, called delay "important" after having criticized the plan and leading opposition efforts during the public comment period. In a prepared statement, the group noted concerns about "(promoting) development in areas that have been devastated" by the storm, but also ticked off a list of other environmental concerns that it has held during the past several months.

"The Office of Planning Advocacy and the State Planning Commission need to reject this plan and go back to the drawing board," Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "The plan needs to be rewritten, as in its current form, the plan goes against good planning."

Smart-growth groups like New Jersey Future and PlanSmart NJ have largely supported the plan and backed the commission's decision today. But PlanSmart NJ also said time was of the essence, encouraging the state "move quickly to incorporate necessary changes, and then put the state plan forward for final adoption."

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