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RELEASE: Ethics Victory Will Protect Pinelands

Date : Thu, 12 Feb 2009 14:03:50 -0500

For Immediate Release

Feb. 12, 2009 Contact: Jeff Tittel

(609) 558-9100

Trenton, NJ -- The New Jersey State Ethics Commission on Monday sided with the New Jersey Sierra Club in a report just released that concludes members of the Pinelands Commission must follow state ethics laws and avoid conflict of interest.

In siding with the Sierra Club, the ethics commission stated that commission members with a direct financial stake in a change to the Comprehensive Management Plan must recuse themselves from voting or participating in decisions that affect their property.

The club was concerned about the actions of least one Pinelands Commission member, who was voting on issues in which he has a direct financial stake. The issue surrounds a vote on the value of Pinelands Development Credits (PDC). PDCs are allocated to landowners, who can then sell or redeem them to developers who get higher densities in growth areas of the Pinelands. The Pinelands Commission sets the price for these credits, which are sold for money. Commission member Stephen Lee, who owns Pinelands credits, recently voted to increase their value. Because this action exhibited a clear conflict of interest, the Sierra Club and other organizations, including the Pinelands Commission, filed a request for an ethics review.

"We consider this a victory in upholding ethical standards in the Pinelands," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "We strongly believe that Pinelands Commission members with a direct financial stake in changes to the Comprehensive Management Plan must recuse themselves from any discussion on the issue. Having the Pinelands Commission vote on matters that directly affect their property is like having Barry Bonds oversee A-Rod."

"We have seen the biggest threats to the Pinelands in the last couple of years with the approval of the Stafford Business Park development, the widening of the Parkway, and cluster zoning," Tittel said. "It is critical for the Pinelands Commission to maintain a strong ethical standard."

This decision also raises questions regarding past votes by the Pinelands Commission. At last month's Pinelands Commission meeting, members approved a cluster provision change to the comprehensive management plan. The change would allow clustering in forest preservation and rural development areas.

"We oppose clustering because it promotes growth within preservation areas and will increase development and pollution in one of the most state most environmentally sensitive areas," Tittel said.

The cluster provision is a major upzoning within the Pinelands, adding a density bonus of one unit per cluster. This will add hundreds of new units to the zone and will also increase land value. Under the cluster provision rules, landowners are permitted to farm and develop, giving them two bites at the apple and enabling them to increase pollution and overdevelopment within the Pinelands.

"This provision violates the Municipal Land Use Law, since the remaining land in the cluster should go to municipalities for open space or remain as open space for people who live the cluster," Tittel said. "Given this recent opinion by the ethics commission, we believe the cluster provision must be revised and the vote set aside. It is clear there is at least one member of the commission who owns a substantial amount of land and who has a direct financial stake in this recent upzoning."

"We believe that the Pinelands Commission has to make changes based on this ethics opinion and stand up for the integrity of the Pinelands Act and the Pinelands itself," Tittel said. "The work of the Pinelands Commission is too important to allow people with a conflict of interest to participate in decision making that directly affects their wallets. This undermines both good government and the protection of the environment."

*Ethics Commission opinion attached

##########

Kara Seymour, Program Assistant NJ Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618

609.656.7612

(f) 609.656.7618

<http://www.newjersey.sierraclub.org> www.newjersey.sierraclub.org

Received on 2009-02-12 12:10:02

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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