The following editorial appears in The Asbury Park Press: The Lakewood Township Committee is expected to vote tonight on a Smart Growth Plan that would establish broad parameters for how the township will grow over the next 20 years.
Under the plan, Lakewood’s population, estimated at 70,000 in the 2008 Census update, would increase to a mind-boggling 230,000 by 2030.
There’s nothing smart about that level of development in a community that has had trouble absorbing far less growth than that in the past two decades.
If the committee approves the plan tonight, as expected, we urge residents appalled by the prospect of even more intensive development of Lakewood in the years ahead to fight back as the plan wends its way through the state endorsement process and the township’s master plan review process. Environmental groups also must join forces to oppose the plan.
If the Smart Growth Plan’s 2030 population estimates come to pass, Lakewood would become the third-largest city in New Jersey, behind only Newark (280,000) and Jersey City (240,000). The plan would add 50,000 people in the next decade and another 80,000 between 2020 and 2030. To put that in perspective, between 2000 and 2008, the last year for which Census estimates are available, the population of Ocean County – one of the fastest-growing counties in the state – added fewer than 50,000 people. Monmouth County’s population grew by 27,000 during that period.
Lakewood added 17,500 residents between 2000 and 2008, according to the county Planning Board – a far slower rate of growth than what is projected for the decades ahead. But even that pace of development put enormous strains on township services and created annual headaches for municipal and school board officials charged with balancing the budget. All too often, the only way to do it was to impose double-digit tax increases.
Among other things, the Smart Growth plan says Lakewood would need to double the number of housing units in the township to accommodate the projected growth in 20 years. That level of development would be insane. It would be certain to have an adverse impact on the environment – an issue that warranted just one paragraph in the Smart Growth Plan. Water from all of Lakewood drains into the Barnegat Bay via the Metedeconk River, whose northern and southern branches and many tributaries slice through much of the eastern half of Lakewood.
Lakewood is hopeful its Smart Growth Plan will receive the blessing of the state Office of Smart Growth. The state doesn’t have the authority to reject the plan. But if it endorses it, Lakewood will be more likely to receive grants and other sources of funding for infrastructure improvements.
It’s clear the Township Committee wants to grow as quickly as zoning and environmental regulations will allow. Those who believe in preserving the environment, maintaining a stable tax rate and allowing for a reasonable quality of life – a group we hope includes county and state planners – must do everything they can to head off the reckless pace of growth envisioned by Lakewood officials.