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Coastal Access Toolkit
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Zoning for Access

Zoning and other land use regulations are most effective when a community is able to take a comprehensive approach to its access needs. For example, a shoreline access plan might be part of a larger water-dependent use zoning scheme for a region.

Incentive/bonus zoning is a technique that allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for providing specific public benefits, such as physical access to the shore. For example, allowing a slightly higher density of houses or multi-use zoning in an area where the developer sets aside land for conservation and a path to the ocean.

Zoning ordinances can be very flexible to address the needs of a specific community. They can include the following:

  • Water-dependent use zoning and/or marine zones can be used to establish districts that give preference to commercial fishing or other maritime activities.
  • Special Permit Zoning (also called incentive zoning, bonus zoning, conditional use, special use, special exception) allows certain uses, prohibits others, and allows a third group of uses only by special permit. For instance, an area could be zoned for water-dependent uses only, with special permits for water-enhanced uses such as restaurants.
  • Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) is a system designed to compensate a developer restricted by a particular zoning regulation. Land is protected by transferring the "rights to develop" from one area and giving them to another. What is actually occurring is placement of conservation easements on property in certain coastal areas while allowing for an increase in development densities or "bonuses" in other areas that are being developed. The costs of purchasing the easements are recovered from the developers who receive the building bonus elsewhere. TDRs tend to be successful only where there is a strong market for the traded development rights.

How much of the New Jersey coast is zoned for water-dependent use?

New Jersey has 1,792 miles of tidal coastline. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Coastal Management Program regulates waterfront development for the entire tidally influenced portion for the state (including ocean, bay and river systems – George Washington Bridge around Cape May to Trenton, and all tidal watercourses in between).

Local government can zone waterfront development in terms of residential, commercial, and open space and they can even include setbacks. Any commercial or residential development has to apply for a waterfront development permit.

Where can I find more information?

Coastal permitting forms and documents including CAFRA: A Guide for Single Family and Duplex Homeowners, Pamphlet: Guide to New Jersey’s Coastal Permitting Program, model grants of conservation restriction/easement and application forms and checklists (NJDEP Division of Land Use Regulation)