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Underwhelming Turnout for Ocean County Draft Master Plan Hearing

If a draft master plan is unveiled in Ocean County and there’s no one there, does it make a noise? The short answer is, not right away. However, in due time, the noise may emanate from environmental advocates, development entrepreneurs, and people with concerns about the county’s economic direction.

Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media

Of the baker’s dozen who attended Wednesday’s public hearing in Toms River, one was an actual member of the public. Hank Glen took the drive in from Manchester and asked thoughtful questions about the meshing of local and county planning and the lack of a county park in his township.

The rest of the group included members of the Planning Board, Planning and Engineering Departments, Freeholders Gerry Little and John Kelly, and the stenographer taking information for the public record.

It’s the first update for the plan in 23 years. Ocean County’s population has swelled from a little over 30,000 before World War II to just under 600,000 today. That growth is bounded by ocean on the east and pinelands forests on the west, and the Barnegat Bay Watershed within. These components, and the man-made contrivances that drive the county’s economy and quality of life, frequently become points of contention for activists for and against a wide variety of initiatives. All of this gives the Master Plan substance beyond its surface appearance of a reference guide.

Contained in the exhaustive study is the vision of County Planning Board members for future  economic planning, job creation, transportation, water and air protections, sewage management, housing, land preservation, parks and recreational space, agriculture, and historic buildings.

The document isn’t binding, but is developed as a guide to which planning boards in the county’s 33 communities can refer.

Planning Board Vice Chairman Don Reed took the lack of attendance as a sign of general satisfaction. The points in the report, he says, have no direct impact on residents, but they can influence projects and conditions that eventually reach them.

“Most of the municipalities that develop their master plans do it…consistent with the nature of the county master plan,” says Reed.

Little entered into the record that notice of the hearing was hand-delivered to each municipal clerk in the county.  Reed says that he hears from municipal planning boards on an as-needed basis, but the reins are a little tighter in his hometown of Plumsted, one of the county’s agrarian centers where he’s a familiar face in municipal affairs.

Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media

“It’s been a custom to refer to the Ocean County Master Plan with regards to issues that impact our township,” says Reed. He adds that it’s a fluid document, able to change along with conditions.

Municipalities are required by state law to revise their master plans every 10 years, a looser regulation than in previous decades when they were expected to upgrade them every six years.

The plan is viewable at http://www.co.ocean.nj.us, and the board will accept written comments through December 19th.

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