Decoding Morristown’s open space: Come to the planning board at 7:30 pm

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By the Morristown Environmental Commission

Tonight’s Morristown Planning Board meeting, July 28, at 7:30 pm, will include a presentation by the Land Conservancy of NJ on behalf of the Morristown Environmental Commission’s work to update two key planning documents — the Town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan and its Environmental Resource Inventory.

The meeting will provide interested citizens with the opportunity to ask questions on the draft documents being presented to the Planning Board members and public. Community review and input will help shape the final versions of the documents which will then be submitted to the Planning Board at a subsequent meeting for formally adoption to assist in future planning discussions and decisions.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE? Protective vegetation has been removed from the shoreline of Burnham Pond...but by whom? Local environmentalists are pressing Morristown officials to find out. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Burnham Park, a prime piece of open space in Morristown. The planning board is studying how to add more recreational areas in town. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

An open space and recreation plan is a comprehensive document that serves as a guide for open space protection and preservation in a municipality. The plan tells why and how open space and recreation lands will be protected there. Because open space preservation is generally pursued over a long period of time, through many successive administrations, it is imperative that a comprehensive plan be in place to assure continuity and policy consistency.

An open space plan can contain a combination of text, maps, tables, aerial photos and other materials. The plan examines the community’s needs and goals, analyzes all open spaces (both preserved and unpreserved) in the municipality, and then lays out a set of priorities and strategies for preservation.

An open space plan is the tool that will enable a community to pursue open space preservation in a systematic, cost-effective manner that best meets its social needs and protects natural resources. It is also a “wish list” that articulates the community’s vision of its future in terms of open space.

The biggest payback on the investment of time and money in an open space plan will be orderly, cost-efficient preservation of open space. The money spent is miniscule compared to the cost of just one parcel of land in a high-priced state like New Jersey.

With a comprehensive open space plan in place, a municipality is more likely to spend its precious dollars on the land that offers the most benefits to the community and the environment. It will not waste money on hasty purchases made in response to a development proposal or political pressures.

By the same token, crucial lands (for example, those with special environmental characteristics or in strategic locations that make them particularly desirable to preserve) are less likely to “fall through the cracks” if they are included in a municipal open space plan.

Morristown’s Environmental Resource Inventory brings together information on natural resource characteristics and environmental features. An ERI become the basis for land use planning that protects resources. The ERI/NRI enables a community through its environmental commission and open space committee to play a significant role in municipal master planning, land use ordinance development, and site plan review.

The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) contributed to a Smart Growth Planning Grant, with funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, to help fund the development of Morristown’s updated Open Space and Recreation Plan and Environmental Resource Inventory.

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