Conservation, environmental and Smart growth groups on Friday urged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to veto plans to consolidate an agency that has overseen development and environmental improvements in the Meadowlands and overhaul a regional tax sharing system, contending that the changes would undermine decades of balanced planning.
New Jersey Future and 10 other organizations sent a letter to Christie spelling out concerns over the legislation that would fold the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission — a zoning and planning agency for a 30.4-square-mile area in Bergen and Hudson counties — into the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The NJSEA manages the Meadowlands sports complex in East Rutherford, which includes MetLife Stadium and other facilities.
The commission was created to encourage orderly development, protect environmental assets and provide solid waste facilities, but the bill that the state Legislature sent to the governor’s desk in December would fundamentally weaken the Meadowlands program, according to the groups, which include the New Jersey Sierra Club, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, the Regional Plan Association, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Environment New Jersey.
Fourteen towns in Bergen and Hudson counties are part of the Meadowlands tax sharing program. Under the legislation, municipalities that currently make payments into the program — Carlstadt, Little Ferry, Lyndhurst, Moonachie, North Bergen, Secaucus and South Hackensack — would no longer do so because of a 3 percent use assessment on the revenues from hotel room occupancies in all 14 towns, according to lawmakers. The hotel use assessment would generate about $6.9 million to $10.3 million annually in additional revenue, according to the Office of Legislative Services.
Municipalities that currently receive money from the program — East Rutherford, Jersey City, Kearny, North Arlington, Ridgefield and Rutherford — would continue to see that funding, lawmakers have said. The tax sharing program was devised in the 1970s to address the impact of regional zoning in the Meadowlands area, according to lawmakers.
However, groups fighting the bill note that it leaves the state on the hook for subsidy payments if the program comes up short.
New Jersey Future and its allies further contend that the legislation — which was first introduced on Dec. 11 and sponsored by lawmakers including Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson — jeopardizes Liberty State Park in Jersey City by giving the NJSEA the green light to undertake projects there and sideswipes the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute and its work to restore marshes and other natural features by shifting its responsibilities to a not-for-profit organization.
By combining the Meadowlands Commission with the NJSEA, the legislation would encourage greater government efficiencies in the pursuit of economic growth for the region, sponsors have said.