Somerset County recognized for preservation plan


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Plan believed to be the first in nation to combine open space, farmland, and historic preservation into one document

A large gathering attended the announcement of Somerset County’s Preservation Plan in late 2022, at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Montgomery Township. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOMERSET COUNTY

Somerset County’s new Preservation Plan was honored by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and New Jersey Future recently, continuing the recognition of the innovative and comprehensive document leading the county’s historic, farmland, and open space preservation efforts, according to the Somerset County Board of Commissioners.

NACo presented its 2023 Achievement Award for Planning at its July National Conference in Travis County, Texas, and New Jersey Future recently announced its 2023 Smart Growth Awards which will be presented at its annual awards ceremony in October.

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“We are in a time of incredible, fast-paced change and Somerset County is committed to taking advantage of the opportunities presented, as well as ensuring smart planning to protect the high quality-of-life our residents expect and deserve,” said Commissioner Paul Drake, liaison to the Somerset County Agricultural Development Board, Park Commission, and Planning Board.

Somerset County’s integrated Preservation Plan was developed by Somerset County’s Office of Planning, Policy, and Economic Development, led by Walter Lane, with input from government, corporate, and non-profit partners as well as hundreds of individuals committed to preserving and enhancing Somerset County’s environmental, agricultural, and historic assets. The plan contains sections focused on stewardship for all currently preserved properties, ensuring continued funding for future acquisitions, conducting issues and needs assessments to drive decision making, and the integration of climate change mitigation strategies, economic development, and tourism efforts into the preservation process.

“Somerset County’s innovative planning strategies and support for local communities and businesses is leading the way, and we are proud of the recognition the first-in-the-nation integrated Preservation Plan has received since it was unveiled last fall,” said Commissioner Melonie Marano, liaison to the Somerset County Open Space Advisory Committee and Cultural & Heritage Commission.

Through the plan, Somerset County continues its commitment to preservation.

The County’s open space inventory is approaching 15,000 acres with a new goal of 24,000 acres. The County also has close to 9,000 acres of farmland preserved with a new goal of 16,000 acres, carrying on the tradition of agriculture in New Jersey that earned the nickname “The Garden State.” As part of the comprehensive new plan, Somerset County is now supporting non-profits in preserving properties for recreation, historic preservation, and conservation using Somerset County’s dedicated Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

Each year, NACo’s Achievement Awards are given in 18 categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice and public safety, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and more. Launched in 1970, the program is designed to recognize innovation in county government. Each nominated program is judged on its own merits and not against other applications.

New Jersey Future has honored smart planning and redevelopment in New Jersey through the Smart Growth Awards since 2002, totaling 142 projects. The projects and plans featured throughout the award series represent the best examples of sustainable growth and redevelopment in the Garden State. This year, New Jersey Future has added a new category of honoree, the Redevelopment Trailblazer, to honor leaders in the state for their groundbreaking contributions to making our communities sustainable and strong.

Last fall the Somerset County Preservation Plan also received the Preservation Documents Award from Preservation New Jersey and the 2022 Achievement in Planning Award from the New Jersey Planning Officials. The plan is believed to be the first in the nation to combine open space, farmland, and historic preservation into one document.

The Somerset County Office of Planning, Policy and Economic Development helps government officials, business leaders, and citizens create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live by positively influencing the process of growth and change in the county. The Office also helps build an optimum living and working environment for residents and employers, by protecting the natural environment and preserving the county’s rich history, farmland and natural beauty while supporting sustainable economic growth and job creation.

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