The Master Plan v. Community Associations

As townships grow and change, they often choose to implement or update a master plan that will help preserve the intention of the community and set the direction for future development. The master plan may address air and water quality, preservation of open spaces, economic development, housing, transportation, community facilities, sewage, storm water management, energy, agriculture, preservation of flora and fauna, education, agriculture, zoning and more. Master Plans are based on historical data, demographics, existing services, soil analysis, geography, and land use. As altruistic as these endeavors might seem, the ramifications from township decisions can have lasting impact to a community association now and in the future.

Representation at the Master Plan Hearing

During the master plan hearings, it’s important for community associations to have their attorney in attendance to help protect the interests of the association and its members. While it may seem like an expense, it’s actually an investment in the wellbeing of the association. Township decisions can lead to future litigation between community associations and the township. Sometimes, the township master plan can be a ruse for developer interests. Having a record of participation and objections in town meetings may be essential to future litigation.

Legal attention must be given to the physical and financial impact of decisions related to:

Conservation – Flood prone areas, environmentally sensitive areas, natural beauty areas, and prime agricultural lands in rural areas should not be urbanized. Development in these areas should be limited to avoid negative environmental impacts, and to preserve the agricultural and historical significance of the county.

Development – Urban conservation and development activities should be centered in areas that have the full range of municipal services, including public water, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, telecommunications, and transportation that can adequately serve the present as well as an expanding population.

Public Services – The availability of public services is a key component to economic development; non‐traditional utilities, such as high speed internet and fiber optics are increasingly becoming required for efficient business.

Rezoning to Slow Growth

Fighting rezoning has been a challenge in New Jersey, and townships have routinely increased property size requirements to limit large-scale developments, which would be essential to a community association. In 2001, Pheasant Bridge Corporation v. Tp. of Warren provided a ruling whereby previously designated zoning was upheld against Warren Township’s newly implemented 6-acre property size requirements. While this case provides a welcome precedent in litigation for community associations, it is still an area where townships are likely to win.

Climate Changes – A New Chapter

A stand-alone document or chapter of a Municipal Master Plan, a Climate Change Plan can include its own introduction and vision, climate projections and vulnerability analysis, actions and strategies, implementation matrixes and monitoring. The ramifications of this analysis will impact ground stability, land use, waste water runoff, sewage processing, evacuation routes, and insurance eligibility. While it may appear that coastal communities are most likely to be impacted by climate change, New Jersey has leveraged recent catastrophic storms to develop a flood map. It’s important that the Master Plan engage science and probability founded in statistics rather than emotional rhetoric or ignorance. New Jersey has a Hazard Mitigation Plan that should be referenced in conjunction with a Municipal Master Plan.

Attorneys Protect Your Community Association in Master Plan Development

Attorneys that work with community associations face unique requirements and regulations based in municipal, state, and federal law. Because the community association has a legal obligation to protect the investment of its member residents, it’s critical that your association leverages attorneys familiar with Master Plan development.

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