• Joseph F. Berenato

Master plan updating


Hammonton’s revision of its master plan is nearing completion. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—Hammonton’s revision of its master plan is nearing completion.


“Every municipality is required to do a master plan review every 10 years. Every 10 years there must be a review or a rewrite ... We’re right there; we’re almost done,” said Councilman Jonathan Oliva, a professional project manager and certified engineer who is involved with the effort.


Dr. Michael Hozik, an professor emeritus of geology at Stockton University, has been a member of the Hammonton Planning Board since 2000 and a member of the Hammonton Environmental Commission—and the Shade Tree Commission before that—since 1990, and has been involved with several revisions of the master plan.


“Every time there was a master plan thing, I tried to get myself involved with it, because I think in those days we took the process as a bureaucratic process, not something real, and I wanted us to take it seriously ... I think some people do think master plans are bureaucratic exercises, but they really aren’t. They are a way for a town to decide what it wants to be, what it wants to look like and what it wants to do,” Hozik said.


Mayor Stephen DiDonato concurred, and said that the master plan “provides a tremendous benefit to developers and residents of the community.”


“The master plan is a process that allows certain buildings in different districts that are compatible with the current look of that district. You try to keep your commercial in one area, and you see over the years if you have to expand that; maybe we should have gone a block over with commercial, or a block less and we need more residential. That’s what the master plan does. It gives developers an idea—a vision—of what the town is looking to have, and where the town is looking to grow and what they want,” DiDonato said.


Hozik agreed.


“The master plan gives the community the chance to take charge and shape what the town is going to be like over the next at least 10 years,” Hozik said.


Hozik recalled one master plan revision that targeted the downtown.


“When we did a downtown master plan and we re-zoned, it was precisely because our former zoning ordinances would have allowed you to bulldoze a building—like the one Casciano is in—and put a gas station there. Think what that would look like in downtown. The consensus was that we want the downtown to look like a downtown—with sidewalks and buildings that come up to the sidewalks—so that it looks like a downtown district,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that such scrutiny was used throughout the different districts in town, particularly regarding neighborhood aesthetics.


“If you look around Hammonton, in most of the older sections of town, there is a house and the garage is behind the house down a little driveway. On more modern houses, the garage is attached at the front of the house—in fact, sometimes I describe it as a garage with an attached house; that’s not really consistent, particularly, with our older neighborhoods. We looked at that kind of thing,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that the goal of the master plan is to have the planning board consider it when hearing applications.


“Ideally, the planning board should look at every development in terms of how it fits with the master plan. That happens to a larger or smaller degree, depending on the composition of the planning board. When a development comes in, we should say, ‘How does this fit the master plan?’” Hozik said.


Hozik said that the master plan itself has no real authority, instead acting as a guide for the formation of zoning ordinances.


“The master plan tells you what you want to do; the zoning ordinances are what gives it teeth ... When we did the downtown revision, for example, the first thing was that we did the master plan for downtown, then we developed the zoning ordinances to be consistent with that,” Hozik said.


One new part of Hammonton’s master plan is a green building and environmental sustainability element.


“You can think about the master plan as a book, and the individual elements are the chapters within the book. Each element you can equate to a chapter. The first chapter might be land use. The second chapter might be housing. The third chapter might be environmental sustainability. The fourth chapter might be transportation; fifth chapter, utilities. You’re looking at what could be a potential buildout of your community. What do you want to encourage, and where do you ultimately want to encourage it?” Oliva said.


Previously, Oliva said, the master plan has only referenced environmental impact.


“We now have a whole chapter—not just a couple of pages—dedicated to it. In that chapter, we’ll discuss what sustainability is, what the vision is for sustainability and what some of our goals and objectives are,” Oliva said.


Oliva said that the new element will provide better definitions about land use, green buildings and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications.


“LEED is essentially how to design structures to meet the energy and environmental needs. It could be everything from something as simple as, if you turn the building 20 degrees this way, it gets optimum sunlight in the daytime to keep you warm and optimum nighttime to keep you cool. It could be things as simple as that, and it could be anything as technical as, this is brand/size make of a heat pump that might be ideal for this specific structure’s application. It covers a wide range of simplistic to technically sophisticated recommendations,” Oliva said.


This new element, Oliva said, would begin to examine the benefits of becoming a greener community.


“What are some of the state’s efforts towards sustainability and where do we feel like our community can thrive in some of those efforts, and then real education and outreach? How do we make sure that sustainability is accurately viewed for what it is, and get the word out to the community?” Oliva said.


Oliva said that the element will also encompass “everything with respect to what you would consider as environmental sustainability.


“Everything from potable water, landscape conservation, lake water quality, recycling programs and stuff like that; a big focus of it is going to continue to be green and environmentally sustainable landscaping, water runoff measures—that’s going to be a big piece of it and something that we’re working on—and what are some LEED-certified buildings in the neighboring areas, and look at some of their positive attributes. The Harley Dawn Diner is a great one that might have positive elements that we could pull or encourage some of our businesses and residents to pull into our community,” Oliva said.


Additionally, the master plan—though not specific to the new element—will discuss water usage and stormwater.


“Stormwater management will be addressed in the master plan under the utilities section, largely, and there’s a small piece of it that will be also in the sustainability portion, because we go through runoff reduction, water conservation and landscape conservation,” Oliva said.


This is important for the preservation of the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer System, Hozik said.


“It’s a significant aquifer; it’s a big deal. The Kirkwood-Cohansey starts in western New Jersey and goes all the way under the state and out offshore. That’s a fairly good chunk of real estate, and it’s fairly thick ... Green infrastructure allows us to be more prudent in our use of water, to be better at recycling water and protecting our aquifer. All of those are good things for the long-term sustainability of our community,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that the state of New Jersey has revised stormwater management requirements on a statewide level.


“We need to modify our regulations to comply with the state regulations. Those are set up to prevent damage to the aquifer. We will have to comply with those. What the master plan would do is say, ‘Conservation of water and preservation of our aquifer are important factors that need to be considered as we look forward to future development. To do that, we should establish criteria for managing stormwater.’ Then, in the zoning ordinances, we would have to put in the stormwater management piece,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that the town of Hammonton—and the surrounding region—is “blessed with a fairly abundant water supply.”


“I often joke to people that if you stick a straw in the ground anywhere in South Jersey, you’re going to be able to get potable water. That’s not quite true—but it’s close. We sit on an incredible reserve of really good water. The flipside is, because of the way it’s set up in our sandy soils, it is also incredibly easy to trash that water supply. We need to be looking at not overusing water—because, while we have decent water resources, we don’t want to overuse them,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that the state regulates how much water municipalities may take from the aquifer.


“That’s their way of controlling overuse of the Kirkwood-Cohansey. We have gotten increases in our allocation in the distant past; there is more and more reluctance to do that now because we’re seeing a problem with the Kirkwood-Cohansey. Water comes into it in western New Jersey, and then it flows under Atlantic City—where it is tapped all the way along for wells,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that not enough recharge has been getting back into the aquifer.


“As you go out to sea, what’s in the aquifer is saltwater. If there’s not enough freshwater flowing out, the saltwater starts to back up. We’ve actually seen the front between the freshwater and the saltwater moving landward since the construction of casinos. The state is probably going to be reluctant to let us take more water out of the Kirkwood-Cohansey when they’re already having a saltwater intrusion problem down at the shore,” Hozik said.


Hozik said that water usage is something to consider with the master plan.


“If we did build out to full capacity, we would probably not have enough water resources to serve it, both in terms of the state allocation of water and the ability of the sewer plant to process the wastewater,” Hozik said.


Fortunately, DiDonato said, residents need not worry.


“We are not nearing capacity on our water use. We are not close to capacity; we have plenty of capacity. That doesn’t mean that we want to squander it or waste it, but we do have capacity,” DiDonato said.


As the master plan revision nears its final stages, Oliva said that the master plan implementation team will be going over it with a scrutinous eye.


“It’s 16 individuals from all different cross-sections of the community who have various different backgrounds—whether it be recreation, utilities, transportation, public works, legal—and each of those individuals is reviewing that document for a very specific purpose ... Since the environmental sustainability element is brand new and it’s not a review and a rewrite of an existing element, we have a few more environmental-minded individuals on the team, so we’re getting a lot of really good feedback from some of the members of the community who have helped drive environmental sustainability and environmental processes over the course of the last decade or more,” Oliva said.


Once the master plan is completed, Oliva said, it will be presented to the Hammonton Planning Board.


“Not only will the planning board have an opportunity to review it but it will also go out on the town’s website. We’ll post a link to the town’s Facebook page. Individuals will be able to review it and provide comment as well ... We anticipate it getting to the planning board in February of this year. That will be for both the public and for the planning board to put their review on,” Oliva said.


Oliva said that community participation is perhaps the most vital element of the master plan.


“It is not a document that the planning board takes on alone. It’s not a document that council takes on alone. It is a document that is to guide the planning board. It’s by the planning board for the planning board, but it involves a number of different individuals with very specific pieces of expertise to help review and put this plan together. When it’s done, we really want the community to give us actionable feedback so that, this way, we can make this long-term plan what the community wants it to be,” Oliva said.


This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory.org and the NJ Sustainability Reporting project— SRHub.org.