Like a beaver felling a tree across a hiking trail, the protection agency can be another major roadblock to our development goals – even if we just want to build a single house.
Every state or commonwealth has an environmental protection agency and in New Jersey it is called the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). As the name implies, the DEP is charged with protecting our environment and natural resources, including our air, water and land.
For buyers and sellers of residential land, we will primarily encounter regulations involving wetlands. To a much lesser extent, we may run into issues involving site contamination, though, for practical purposes, this will be avoided. Unless you are developing a commercial site or a major residential subdivision (more than 3 lots), involvement with contaminant site remediation is infrequent.
However, the Department of Environmental Protection has special jurisdiction over development within or near freshwater wetlands. As a rule, no development is permitted on wetlands. There are some limited exceptions but getting around these rules can be difficult and expensive. Permits to build on wetlands are typically the province of big, well-healed developers.
We will mostly be concerned about wetland transition areas or the distance between wetlands and development such as a house, barn or driveway. Transition distances fall into three separate categories based on the classification of importance of the freshwater wetland.
Wetlands of exceptional resource value are associated with threatened or endangered (T&E) species, whether the T&E species occupy the wetland itself or the wetland provides suitable habitat for these animals and plants. Exceptional resource value wetlands require a 150-foot buffer or transition area.
On the other end of the spectrum are wetlands of ordinary value, which are often small and isolated or are really drainage ditches or swales. They are not naturally occurring. Between wetlands of exceptional and ordinary value are ones classified as having intermediate value. Ordinary wetlands require no transition area, while intermediate wetlands require a 50-foot buffer in New Jersey.
Some of the most beautiful land for building a house is surrounded by land that is wet. These areas provide natural buffers between your house and neighbors. No need for fences, because the wet forest will keep the distance. However, working with the DEP can also be expensive and complex.