Council introduces Highlands Act ordinance

| 25 Apr 2012 | 02:13

    By Amy Stewart BYRAM — Byram introduced for the first time at a recent council meeting an ordinance that will provide a regulatory process to ensure the township is in compliance with the Highlands Regional Master Plan. The master plan was authored by the NJ Highlands Council, whose mission it is to protect a 1,343 square-mile area in the northwest part of NJ that includes 88 municipalities from environmental hazards. The ordinance also provides for the immediate protection of Highlands resources by ensuring that all applications for development to the township’s planning board are consistent with the Highlands Council Resolution and the Highlands Regional Master Plan. Councilwoman Nisha Kash and Councilman Carlos Luaces objected to Councilman Scott Olson voting on the ordinance, asking that he recuse himnself from the discussion since he receives grant money from the Highlands Coalition, a non-profit entity, which, according to their website, “is a four-state alliance of nearly 200 nonprofit, municipal, state and federal organizations working collaboratively to protect vitally important natural resources in the Highlands of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.” The Highlands Coalition is a separate organization from the Highlands Council, which is a state governmental agency that oversees regional planning. Olson and Mayor James Oscovitch asked township attorney Tom Collins, who was present at the meeting, whether or not Olson should be allowed to vote on the matter. Collins advised that Olson “is allowed to vote because, under the first amendment, he is allowed to work for a non-profit and receive grant money from that non-profit and is permitted to vote on municipal legislation of a general legislative matter where the nonprofit is not taking a position before the legislative council. An ethical conflict of interest is not caused by disagreement or policy conflict. Everyone has the right to have policy disagreement.” The first reading passed with "yes" votes from Oscovitch, Olson and Councilwoman Marie Raffay, and abstentions from councilmembers Luaces and Kash.