'Unsuitable': Warehouses to be prohibited from these NJ drinking water source areas

A new policy unveiled in late April by the state's Highlands Council will prohibit warehouses from large swaths of North Jersey.

The independent state agency's policy sets new standards and "no-go" zones for distribution and fulfillment centers in northwest Highlands communities conforming to the Regional Master Plan. The council has also established requirements for warehouse construction in areas of concentrated development or in need of redevelopment in the nearly 860,000-acre Highlands region.

The New Jersey Highlands Region covers more than 1,250 square miles and 88 municipalities in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties. The region supplies an essential source of drinking water for half of the state's residents.

Former site of the Hercules Munitions Kenvil plant that covers several hundred acres that are proposed to be developed as warehouses and residential rentals. There are still some structures left on the site that will be demolished including an old water treatment plant. A pond is on site and scenic trails being proposed. The site is seen here in Roxbury, NJ on March 9, 2023.

The new standards come as the region's seven counties face high demand for warehousing due to the proliferation of online shopping and their location in the middle of a vast transportation and goods distribution network, according to council documents. As warehousing has grown, so has the opposition.

Some residents in the region's communities have railed against warehousing for industrializing the watershed region's bedroom communities and blighting its scenic woodlands. Advocates point to the economic and tax benefits of these commercial projects. Generally off-limits to the public, distribution and fulfillment centers are less reliant on municipal services than other types of development and send no children to local schools. They also support a trade, transportation and warehousing industry that now provides roughly one in eight New Jersey jobs, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

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Earlier in 2023, Highlands Council officials started offering municipalities $5,000 grants to study local zoning for deficiencies that could result in unwanted development. Officials then said warehouses could be inappropriate for some areas in the region. The new standards state they are “without question an unsuitable use” for all land in the region's Preservation Area outside of approved redevelopment areas. The Preservation Area encompasses roughly 398,000 acres and is governed by the region's heaviest development restrictions.

Sparta Ready-Mix is a proposed site to build warehouses at 33 Demarest Road in Sparta, NJ.
Sparta Ready-Mix is a proposed site to build warehouses at 33 Demarest Road in Sparta, NJ.

Warehouses will be permitted in existing community zones, redevelopment areas, Highlands growth centers and potentially other sites in the region's Planning Area, according to the policy. Unlike communities in the Preservation Area, Planning Area communities opt-in to the Regional Master Plan that guides the implementation of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act of 2004. Council officials said the warehouse policy does not apply to communities that have not opted-in and are therefore not in compliance with the plan.

Planning Area communities that are in compliance will have strict requirements for siting warehouses. Facilities larger than 500,000 square feet, for example, must be located within 3 miles of an interstate highway exchange if they are located on a state highway. However, that distance shortens to a mile, if the warehouse is located on a county road. Local roads are only permitted to serve the small facilities of roughly 1,500 square feet in size, according to the policy.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Policy prohibits warehouses from these NJ drinking water areas