New Jersey Highlands

The Highlands Region in NJ

Greenwood Lake

According to the New Jersey Highlands Coalition site, the New Jersey Highlands is a 1,343 square mile area in the northwest part of the state noted for is scenic beauty and environmental significance. The region stretches from Phillipsburg in the southwest to Ringwood in the northeast, and lies within portions of seven counties (Hunterdon, Somerset, Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen) and includes 88 municipalities.

The Highlands yields approximately 379 million gallons of water daily and is a vital source of drinking water for over 5 million residents of New Jersey. Protecting New Jersey’s drinking water is critically important to maintaining the future economic viability of the entire state.

The Highlands’ are also diverse natural communities with extensive forests, wetlands, rivers, and streams.  Preserving these areas are of statewide importance as a place of recreation and open space within a crowded state and also as an important part of local ecnonomies that rely upon recreation and tourism.

The Highlands at Risk

The Highlands is increasingly at risk of being overdeveloped. Within a five year period (1995-2000), the Highlands lost 17,000 acres of forests and 8,000 acres of farmland. Growth pressures continue to consume land at a rate of approximately 3,000 acres every year. Development is threatening the region’s significant natural resources and the state’s drinking water supply.

The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act

While growth management efforts by individual municipalities continue under the Municipal Land Use Law, the NJ State legislature determined that a coordinated regional effort was necessary to safeguard the Highlands Region.  In 2004 the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was signed into law to preserve open space and protect the precious water resources that supply drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s families. The Highlands Act documented the geographical boundary of the Highlands Region and established the Highlands Preservation Area and the Highlands Planning Area. It required the department to establish regulations in the Highlands Preservation Area to create a Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council and to develop a regional master plan for the entire Highlands Region.

highlands map

Mountain Lakes’ Falls in Highlands Planning Area

In the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (Highlands Act), the Legislature designated specific boundaries within the New Jersey Highland Region as the Preservation Area and the Planning Area.  As a legislative enactment, these boundaries are not subject to modification through the municipal Conformance Process with the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP).

The fundamental distinction between the Preservation and Planning Areas is that municipal and county conformance with the Highlands RMP is required in the Preservation Area and is voluntary in the Planning Area.  The Preservation Area consists of nearly 415,000 acres of the Highlands Region 859,358 acres, and is located in 52 municipalities within the seven Highlands Counties.  The lands within the Preservation Area were subject to the immediately effective standards in the Highlands Act and are governed by rules and regulations subsequently adopted by the NJDEP.

The Borough of Mountain Lakes is located within the less restrictive Highlands Planning Area.  The Planning Area consists of nearly 445,000 acres and is located in 83 municipalities.

The Borough has currently chosen to follow its own Master Plan (last revised in 1996) and not to conform to the conditions of the Highlands RMP.