Bernards Township, New Jersey

Bernards Township, population 26,652 (2010), is located in Somerset County, New Jersey, 35 miles southwest of New York City and 55 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The southern tip of the Township is bisected by Interstate Highway 78, which connects Newark, New Jersey with Allentown, Pennsylvania. The northern half of the Township is crossed by Interstate 287, the peripheral highway that encircles the New York-New Jersey conurbation. Despite its location, the Township contains relatively large tracts of farmland and rural countryside.

New Jersey has adopted a Fair Housing Act and regulations designed to assure the construction of lower-income housing. In 1984, Bernards Township responded by establishing procedures for allowing planned residential developments in the R-5 zone that provide a realistic opportunity to construct affordable housing in the Township. However, the R-5 zone contains both lowlands and drylands. To protect environmental resources, development is limited to a lower density in the lowlands than in the drylands. To encourage the provision of affordable housing and the preservation of natural areas, the Township adopted TDR provisions to allow development rights from the lowland R-5 areas to be transferred on a one-to-one ratio to the dryland R-5 areas, resulting in an increase in the density of the receiving site project. The applicable code section, 21-10.14 Planned Residential Development (PRD-1 and PRD-2) found in the Township’s codes in September 2020 appears largely unchanged since its adoption. 

In the Township’s residential TDR program, both sending sites and receiving sites must be located in the R-5, the only zoning district in the Township that allows Planned Residential Neighborhoods. The R-5 designation applies to approximately 600 acres of land in the Township.

The sending sites are R-5 Lowlands, defined as all land lower than a specified elevation within three mapped areas within the R-5 zone. Lowlands are developable but generally contain important natural features. R-5 Lowlands are assigned a residential density credit of one unit per acre. At the owner’s option, these credits can be transferred on a one-to-one basis to another property or properties in the R-5 zone.

The receiving sites are R-5 Drylands, defined as all land within the R-5 zone that does not meet the definition of Lowlands. Without the use of transferred credits, development on R-5 Drylands is limited to an overall density of 5.5 units per acre. To promote the goal of affordable housing, at least 20 percent of the units in an R-5 development greater than 30 acres must be affordable to lower-income households. However, at least 35 percent of any R-5 tract must consist of single-family residential development at a density of not more than three units per acre.

Transfers occur through the approval of a development plan which incorporates both the sending and receiving sites. Density credits from sending sites can be used to increase density on receiving sites from 5.5 to 6.5 units per acre, an overall density bonus of 18 percent.

The Township does not require all density credits to be transferred from sending sites. If some density credits remain on the sending site, the development must adhere to the requirements for standard residential development, subject to the development plan which must be approved for both the sending and receiving sites when transfers occur. If all density credits are transferred, the sending site can only be used for agricultural uses or dedicated to the Township. After the development plan is approved, the transfer and the development plan must be recorded along with a covenant that restricts future development on the sending site.

The Bernhards Township TDR program offers density bonuses ranging from 17 to 33 percent. However, no transfers have occurred. In 1995, Peter Messina, Town Planner, reported that the amount of land left to develop in the Dryland portions of the R-5 zone was limited.

In a February 2001 update, Town Planner Messina reported that the undeveloped building sites in Dryland portions of the R-5 zone have been depleted. Messina also notes that the Town has eliminated two commercial zones as potential TDR receiving areas: the Office-Laboratory and the Planned Employment Development zone.