July 11, 2008

Suburban Sprawl Continues Across New Jersey Shore, Census Figures Show

By Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press, N.J.

Jul. 10--Planners and environmentalists have long tried to rein in housing developments to save open land, but U.S. Census figures released Wednesday show that suburban sprawl continues its stretch across New Jersey.

Towns on the outer edges of dense suburban areas, in general, saw the greatest rates of population increase from 2000 to 2007, the data show.

At the Shore area, Ocean County's population grew by 10 percent -- to 565,493 -- with the highest growth rates occurring in the southern end of the county that long ago was considered the domain of fishermen and rural nature lovers.

Jackson, with 9,197 more residents, and Lakewood, with 9,025 more residents, both led the state with the largest population growth from 2000 to 2007.

Monmouth County's population grew a modest 4 percent in the seven-year period -- to 642,030 -- but the county saw a peak of new roofs in the western areas once filled with farms.

"Ocean has long been one of the state's growth counties and Monmouth also has had strong growth," said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. "The areas with the most developable land are seeing the most growth."

But Hughes said suburban development trends will be stemmed by the high cost of fuel and the slumping housing market.

"The question going forward is going to be related to cost of living and spikes in oil prices," Hughes said. "It's going to be more painful paying $4 and $5 a gallon for gasoline, and people are going to be less willing to make long commutes to their jobs."

The state population is up by 254,000, to 8.7 million, a 3 percent change.

The census data also show that locally:

Barnegat (population up 42.2 percent), Waretown (up 33.5 percent), and Little Egg Harbor (up 27.6 percent) had the highest growth rates in Ocean County.

In Upper Freehold, Monmouth County's most rural municipality, the estimated population increased by 2,537 to 6,833 -- a jump of 59.05 percent. That percentage was the third-highest growth rate in the state, only behind Woolwich in Gloucester County at 181 percent and Lebanon Borough in Hunterdon County at 77 percent.

Manalapan had the largest raw population change in Monmouth County, with an increase of 5,168 residents. That boosted the township's population to 38,591.

The census data released Wednesday are based on estimates of growth following the once-every-decade count done for the 2000 Census.

Local officials interviewed said that they favored continuing efforts to limit suburban sprawl.

Upper Freehold Deputy Mayor Robert J. Faber Sr. said housing developments completed in recent years inflated his township's population, though he said that growth would likely be stunted for now.

"The way the market is right now, nobody's going ahead, purchasing or building," Faber said. "Whether it's going to take many years to recover, your guess is as good as mine."

About 40 percent of Upper Freehold's 30,365 acres is preserved open space. Faber said he would like to see more open space in town preserved, but noted that funding is not readily available.

Stafford used to be one of the fastest-growing municipalities in New Jersey, but efforts by local officials to limit growth have slowed development, Mayor Carl W. Block said.

By changing zoning rules, the maximum number of residents who will likely live in town will be about 29,000, Block said. The census estimates the town has 26,282 residents.

When Block took office in 1983, the build-out population number stood at 75,000 residents, he said.

"I think given where we started, given what we had to work with, I think we certainly did the best we can do," Block said. "Some people have trouble believing it, but when you pull a map out . . . the proof is there."

Block said his administration is in the process of continuing to look at acquiring more open space in an effort to curb further development. Ultimately, he said he believes the projected build-out population of 29,000 itself is too high.

"We know where the end is," Block said. "But as you get closer to the ceiling, it slows down, because you run out of land."

Monmouth County Freeholder John D'Amico Jr. said the population change in the county "continues to be at a manageable growth rate."

Monmouth County Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry said open-space and farmland preservation programs and county government services "offer an array of support and assistance to residents and municipalities alike."


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