This page provides detailed information and links regarding the process of municipal and county conformance to the Regional Master Plan. Use the following links for easy access to specific topics:
- Municipal Notices of Intent to Conform
- Plan Conformance Status
- Plan Conformance Petition Process
- Highlands Municipal Build-Out Reports
- Plan Conformance Tracking
- Plan Conformance Guidelines & FAQs
- Municipal Plan Conformance Administrative Documents
- Municipal Instructions for Plan Conformance
- County Instructions for Plan Conformance
- RMP Updates & Map Adjustments
- Highlands Center Designation
- Municipal & County Plan Conformance Submittals
- Plan Conformance Implementation
- Wastewater Management Plans for Highlands Municipalities
- Highlands Area Municipal Exemption Determination Certification Program
- Plan Conformance Staff Liaisons
Municipal Notices of Intent to Conform
The map below shows the areas for which a municipality has submitted a Notice of Intent to Petition for Plan Conformance within the Highlands Region.
Conformance with the RMP (Plan Conformance) is the overall goal for implementation of the various elements of the RMP. The Highlands Act establishes the requirement that all municipalities and counties for land in the Preservation Area bring their local master plans and development regulations into conformance with the "goals, requirements and provisions of the regional master plan." Plan Conformance is voluntary for lands in the Planning Area, both before and after submittal of a Petition.
Plan Conformance Status
Plan Conformance documents have been received for the Preservation Area, Planning Area, or both, from the following municipalities and counties (note: linked municipalities have their Plan Conformance documents available online, where the petition has been deemed administratively complete by the Highlands Council):
Alexandria Township, Allamuchy Township, Alpha Borough, Bedminster Township, Bethlehem Township, Bloomingdale Borough, Bloomsbury Borough, Boonton Township, Byram Township, Califon Borough, Chester Township, Clinton Town, Clinton Township, Denville Township, Far Hills Borough, Franklin Township, Glen Gardner Borough, Green Township, Greenwich Township, Hackettstown, Hampton Borough, Hardyston Township, Harmony Township, High Bridge Borough, Holland Township, Hopatcong Borough, Independence Township, Jefferson Township, Kinnelon Borough, Lebanon Borough, Lebanon Township, Liberty Township, Lopatcong Township, Mahwah Township, Montville Township, Mount Arlington Borough, Mount Olive Township, Oakland Borough, Ogdensburg Borough, Oxford Township, Parsippany-Troy Hills Township, Pequannock Township, Phillipsburg Town, Pohatcong Township, Randolph Township, Ringwood Borough, Rockaway Township, Roxbury Township, Sparta Township, Stanhope Borough, Tewksbury Township, Union Township, Vernon Township, Wanaque Borough, Washington Township (Morris), Washington Township (Warren), West Milford Township, Wharton Borough, White Township, Bergen County, Morris County, Passaic County, Somerset County, Sussex County.
The required contents of a Petition for Plan Conformance include a cover letter identifying the portion of the municipality or county to which the Petition for Plan Conformance is applicable and submission materials as described in the 2009 Plan Conformance Grant Program - "Module 7-Municipal Petitions for Plan Conformance" and "County Petition for Plan Conformance" - both of which are below.
Plan Conformance Petition Process
Each municipal and county Petition for Plan Conformance will be reviewed by the Highlands Council within 60 days of receipt to determine whether it is administratively complete. The Highlands Council will notify municipalities and counties of any incomplete submittals and they will be provided an opportunity to submit information and materials as necessary to achieve a complete petition.
Upon a determination that the petition is administratively complete for review, the Executive Director shall notify the municipality or county and will, within 10 days, post the complete petition on the Highlands Council website on the Municipal & County Plan Conformance Submittals page. The Highlands Council also periodically posts a table showing the current status for all petitions, at the same site.
Once a municipal or county Petition is deemed administratively complete, the Highlands Council will conduct a substantive review and develop a Preliminary Draft Consistency Review and Recommendations Report, which will be provided to the municipality or county for review. The Highlands Council will then post a Draft Consistency Review and Recommendations Report on the Municipal & County Plan Conformance Submittals page for public review and comment. The duration of the public comment period, how to submit public comments, and the public hearing schedule (generally at a subsequent Highlands Council meeting) will be part of the public notice for each Petition. After the close of public comments, a Final Consistency Review and Recommendations Report will be submitted to the full Highlands Council for its consideration and approval at a regularly scheduled meeting, and will also be posted on the Municipal & County Plan Conformance Submittals page prior to the Highlands Council meeting at which it will be considered. Through this process, the municipalities, counties and public will be consistently informed of progress on the petitions, current status, and opportunities for comment. The Highlands Council believes that this transparent process will provide for significant community involvement in the Plan Conformance process.
Highlands Municipal Build-Out Reports
The Municipal Build-Out Reports developed in support of Petitions for Plan Conformance (regarding Modules 1 and 2) are posted at the following location as they are publicly released by the Highlands Council following municipal review (see the map showing Municipal Build-Out Reports, below):
The build-out reports are also posted on the Municipal & Plan Conformance Submittals page for the relevant municipality. Likewise, the Highlands Council posts final reports submitted by municipalities, such as Initial Assessment Grant Reports, upon determination by the Highlands Council that the reports are final.
All materials, including the complete petitions, will also be available at the Highlands Council offices for public review after they are posted on the Council web site. Please make an appointment for review of materials to allow staff to prepare and arrange a room for materials to be reviewed. Prior to that time, the Highlands Council considers all petition materials to be preliminary, and requests for such petition materials such be made to the petitioning county or municipality.
Plan Conformance Tracking
Highlands Council Plan Conformance Tracking Sheets support a transparent process that provides interested parties with ready access to information about the status of all Petitions for Plan Conformance as well as progress toward Plan Conformance Implementation.
The Plan Conformance Petition Tracking Sheet provides an overview of the entire process of Plan Conformance from the date a Petition is received by the Highlands Council through the date of final action by the Highlands Council, and public notice of decision.
The Plan Conformance Implementation Tracking Sheet tracks progress once a Petition for Plan Conformance is approved by the Highlands Council. The document indicates dates when key elements of the implementation process, such as the adoption of the Highlands Master Plan Element or Highlands Land Use Ordinance, are completed in each municipality. Please note: this tracking sheet currently does not include all implementation steps, but will be expanded as required as municipalities progress through the process.
A summary of Plan Conformance grant expenditures to-date is available in the document below. Complete details regarding Plan Conformance grant funding by municipality is available in the Implementation Plan and Schedule document that is part of every municipal petition for Plan Conformance.
Plan Conformance Guidelines & FAQs
These guidelines were adopted by the Highlands Council in 2008 following opportunity for public comment. The guidelines provide an overview of procedures for municipal and county development of documents to be submitted in Petitions for Plan Conformance with the Regional Master Plan. Detailed instructions under the Plan Conformance Grant Program are provided in sections below for each module (for municipalities) or tasks (for counties).
Municipal Plan Conformance Administrative Documents
Plan Conformance Grant Program
Initial Assessment Grant Program
Municipal Instructions for Plan Conformance
The Highlands Council developed the following materials in support of the 2009 Plan Conformance Grant Program toward development of municipal Petitions for Plan Conformance.
Module 1: Municipal Build Out
Module 2: Land Use and Resource Capacity Analysis
Module 3: Housing Elements and Fair Share Plan
- Instructions for the completion of Module 3 is available in the following document:
Update of Figures and Exhibits for Modules 4, 5 and 6 (Posted April 2012)
The Highlands Council has updated many of the figures for Module 4 and exhibits for Modules 5 and 6, using more current data than were available for the Regional Master Plan. These new figures and exhibits constitute RMP Updates. Each municipality that has submitted a Petition for Plan Conformance has received or will receive the revised set of figures and exhibits, which are available for public review on the Plan Conformance page for that municipality (see Plan Conformance Status, above). In addition, the Highlands Council has posted the GIS data files for the full Highlands Region in the GIS Data Downloads page and the Interactive Map web tool has been updated to incorporate the new data. A listing and description of the figures and exhibits and the data used in their update is available at the following link:
Module 4: Environmental Resource Inventory
Module 5: Model Highlands Element for Municipal Master Plans
Please be advised that all versions of the Model Highlands Elements for Municipal Master Plans (Planning and Preservation Area; Planning Area Only; Preservation Area Only) have been modified since first released to municipalities by the Highlands Council in 2009. The revised documents reflect suggestions and input received from municipal representatives and professionals after the initial release. Please be advised that these documents will continue to evolve in accordance with changing circumstances and the models will also be individually tailored in most cases, to address the individual needs of specific municipalities through the Plan Conformance process. Please note that while Municipal Highlands Elements may differ from the Highlands Council models once completed, they must in all cases conform to the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) as determined by the Highlands Council through the Plan Conformance process. Please note that documents are provided in both Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word formats to facilitate their use, but instructions should be followed.
- Instructions (pdf)
- Model Highlands Element for Municipal Master Plans, December 2012: pdf, Word (Combined Planning Area and Preservation Area Version)
- Model Highlands Element for Preservation Areas, December 2012: pdf, Word (Preservation Area Only Version)
- Model Highlands Element for Planning Areas, December 2012: pdf, Word (Planning Area Only Version)
Module 6: Municipal Highlands Regulations
Please be advised that all versions of the Model Highlands Land Use Ordinances for Municipalities (Planning and Preservation Area; Planning Area Only; Preservation Area Only) have been modified since first released by the Highlands Council in 2009. The revised documents reflect certain statutory changes as well as a variety of suggestions and input received from municipal representatives and professionals after the initial release. In addition, they include revised exhibit titles that provide for incorporation of a new series of Highlands Council maps, created specifically for regulatory purposes. The maps will feature grouped data layers (significantly reducing the overall number of maps) and importantly, provide parcel-level data based on current State GIS parcel coverage. Please be advised that these documents will continue to evolve in accordance with changing circumstances, particularly with respect to retaining consistency with the Master Plan Highlands Element. The models will also be tailored in most cases, to address the individual needs of specific municipalities through the Plan Conformance process. Please note that while Municipal Highlands Land Use Ordinances may differ from the Highlands Council models once completed, they must in all cases conform to the Highlands Regional Master Plan (RMP) as determined by the Highlands Council through the Plan Conformance process. Please note that documents are provided in both Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word formats to facilitate their use, but instructions should be followed.
Module 7: Municipal Petitions for Plan Conformance
County Instructions for Plan Conformance
The Highlands Council developed the following materials in support of the 2009 Plan Conformance Grant Program toward development of county Petitions for Plan Conformance.
RMP Updates & Map Adjustments
Municipalities and Counties may request RMP Updates or Map Adjustments as part of the Plan Conformance process. The following documents are provided to guide municipalities in their requests.
Highlands Center Designation
A Highlands Center is an area where development and redevelopment is planned and encouraged. Highlands Centers are intended to support balance in the Highlands Region by providing for sustainable economic growth while protecting critical natural and cultural resources.
The designation of a Highlands Center triggers a planning process that is specific to a geographic area. The process begins by identifying the development goals for the area, along with the desired level and intensity of development. Highlands Center planning is community-driven and flexible, resulting in a development plan tailored for a neighborhood or area.
A Highlands Center designation is incorporated into a municipality’s Petition for Plan Conformance. Municipalities interested in exploring a Highlands Center designation should contact the Highlands Council staff to begin the process.
Highlands Center Overview Presentation (includes list of approved Centers to date) - (pdf)
Highlands Center mapping is available on the GIS data downloads page.
Municipal & County Plan Conformance Submittals
Plan Conformance Implementation
Implementation Process Overview
- Implementation Tasks - For municipalities with approved petitions working on implementation tasks:
- Module 2, 3, and 7 Updates - For municipalities with approved petitions working on Module updates related to March 10, 2015 NJ Supreme Court decision:
Upon Highlands Council approval of a Petition for Plan Conformance, municipalities that are conforming to the RMP for the Planning Area must adopt an ordinance formally petitioning the Highlands Council, as required by the Highlands Act. In addition, all municipalities, for both Preservation Area and Planning Area conformance, will initiate the process of adopting their Highlands Environmental Resource Inventories, Highlands Municipal Master Plan Elements and Highlands Land Use Ordinances. Each of these steps requires a public process, which may be extended. To ensure that the Highlands resources and intended land uses are protected during that period, the Highlands Council has developed the following model documents to assist the municipalities. All are Microsoft Word® files unless otherwise noted.
**If you are unsure which model documents to use, please contact your municipal liaison.**
In accordance with the Highlands Act and the Regional Master Plan, the Highlands Council provides technical guidance related to resource management and protection as part of the Plan Conformance implementation process. Contact your Highlands Council Liaison for more information.
- Lake and Stream Guidance
Although materials below are intended primarily for use by municipalities within the Highlands Region (and grant funding is available to support associated work for municipalities that are conforming with the Highlands Regional Master Plan) the principles, strategies and methods outlined within are applicable to any municipality and may be of interest to other stakeholders.
- Stormwater Management Program Guidance
Conforming Highlands municipalities are eligible for grant funding to support the development and implementation of Stormwater Management Programs. Guidance documents for the development of these programs is available below. Contact your Highlands Council Liaison for more information.
- Scenic Resource Nomination, Evaluation and Inventory
In October 2008, the Highlands Council adopted procedures by which the Council could designate scenic resources for inclusion in the Highlands Scenic Resources Inventory. The procedures envision a role for municipalities, counties, and interested third parties.
Wastewater Management Plans for Highlands Municipalities
The Water Quality Management Planning Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:15) adopted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) require that all areas of New Jersey are addressed by Wastewater Management Plans (WMP). Where the Highlands Council has approved a Petition for Plan Conformance for an entire municipality, the Highlands Council will develop a draft WMP in collaboration with the municipality and NJDEP. When the municipality concurs with the draft WMP, it is provided to NJDEP for final review, public comment and adoption. Through this process, municipalities are able to implement their new sewer service areas and other WMP provisions on a more expeditious schedule, in conformance with the RMP.
The Tracking Sheet below lists all municipalities that have received approval of their Petition for Plan Conformance regarding their full jurisdiction to-date, and indicates the status of their WMP proposal and adoption.
PLEASE NOTE: These documents are posted here as a courtesy to the municipalities and NJDEP. All public comments must be submitted to NJDEP, in accordance with the New Jersey Register notice published on the date listed LexisNexis provides free on-line public access to the New Jersey Register. The Highlands Council does not accept public comments on WMPs, as only NJDEP has the authority to adopt these plans.
Highlands Area Municipal Exemption Determination Certification Program
Through a Memorandum of Understanding with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Highlands Council has developed a program to authorize municipalities with approved Plan Conformance Petitions to issue determinations regarding certain Highlands Act exemptions, following completion of a training and certification program and adoption of an approved Highlands ordinance. Details regarding this program are provided below.
Training Program Materials
Materials are provided here for reference only. Attendance at Highlands Council training is required for certification.
CEUs: This training program has been approved for one technical contact hour for individuals holding a Rutgers issued Board Secretary, Zoning Official, and/or Land Use Administrator certification(s). Attendees will be provided with the proper paperwork and instructions at the session. Please note that certificate holders may only count their attendance at one Municipal Exemption Determination training session per planning/zoning renewal cycle.
Model Highlands Area Exemption Ordinance
Please note that this ordinance is only for use by certified municipalities that have completed the training program referenced above and received certificates from the Highlands Council. Adoption of this ordinance shall not occur until after the Highlands Council has certified the municipality to proceed with exemption determinations.
Certified Municipalities (as of April 2015)
||Alexandria Township, Califon Borough, High Bridge Borough, Lebanon Township
||Chester Township, Jefferson Township, Montville Township, Mount Olive Township, Washington Township
||Ringwood Borough, West Milford Township
||Byram Township, Hardyston Township, Hopatcong Borough, Sparta Township, Vernon Township
||Allamuchy Township, Franklin Township, Oxford Township, Washington Township
Plan Conformance Staff Liaisons
A Staff Liaison is assigned to each municipality engaged in the Highlands Plan Conformance process. A list of Liaisons by county and municipality is available at the link below.