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(Photo Credit: DowntownHammonton.com)

HAMMONTON —At a webinar presentation on May 14, the town of Hammonton received a $20,000 grant from Sustainable Jersey to assist with its master plan efforts.

“The first is totally brand new; it is a green building and sustainability element. It will address environmentally friendly construction practices in the town, and probably some of the sustainability-related issues, very specifically and very directly.”

Dan Bachalis, Chairperson, Hammonton Environmental Commission

According to a press release from Sustainable Jersey, five $20,000 grants, six $10,000 grants and 20 $2,000 grants were distributed to municipalities in 14 New Jersey counties.

Sustainable Jersey is a non-profit that provides “tools, training and financial incentives to support communities as they pursue sustainability programs. Currently, 81 percent or 455 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities are participating in the municipal certification program and 351 school districts and 952 schools are participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program,” according to the release. Dan Bachalis, chairperson of the Hammonton Environmental Commission, said that the grant will help to fund two new elements for the town’s master plan.

“The first is totally brand new; it is a green building and sustainability element. It will address environmentally friendly construction practices in the town, and probably some of the sustainability-related issues, very specifically and very directly,” Bachalis said.

These practices, Bachalis said, incorporate everything from the types of windows and siding used to the direction that new construction is oriented, which would allow for the use of solar energy.

“Knowing that sustainability and historic preservation are very important things to everyone in Hammonton, we thought it was important to weave that into the fabric of our master plan.”

Jonathan Oliva, Councilman, Town of Hammonton

The second element, Bachalis said, involves historic preservation.

“This will create an entirely new and separate element to give historic preservation issues a bit more prominence in the town’s guiding document. It will provide fuller explanations and explorations of historic preservation issues and possibilities in the town, and, I think, through the process of discussing what exactly does historic mean for the town of Hammonton, what do we want to do, to preserve our historic buildings and areas, historic lands, historic lands, and how best to do that,” Bachalis said.

Councilman Jonathan Oliva, who originally approached council for a motion of support earlier in the year, spoke to The Gazette about the importance of those elements.

“We thought it was important to add sustainability elements to our master plan, as well as historic preservation, because those are things that we as a town have continued to embody year after year. I think our environmental commission, our green team, has done a really great job bringing some new and innovative things to town. We wanted to build that into the very fabric of the town, and that’s really what the master plan does. It’s a guidance document. It is illustrative but it’s not exhaustive. It’s helping to guide the individuals on how you plan to plan out your town. Knowing that sustainability and historic preservation are very important things to everyone in Hammonton, we thought it was important to weave that into the fabric of our master plan,” Oliva said.

Mayor Stephen DiDonato also spoke to The Gazette, and explained the purpose behind the town’s master plan.

“The master plan goes through all the different zones of the town. It sees that this is working here, or this isn’t working there, or this should be adjusted. We have an area in need of improvement in this zone; how do we want to address that? Do we want to adjust the codes to make it a little bit more favorable for a developer to come in? Do we want to give some direction as to what we’re looking for in that area—single family with commercial downstairs, etc., all depending on the zone,” DiDonato said.

Bachalis said that the grant will be used to pay for the actual work on the master plan by the town engineer.

“ARH (Adams, Rehmann & Heggan Associates, Inc.), the town engineer, is going to be helping to lead the review of the entire master plan, which is going to get looked to make sure that it’s up to date, and we’ll make changes in the other elements as necessary. They will spend a good amount of time on developing these two new elements. The $20,000 will go to help pay for ARH’s time and re- search in developing the elements themselves. Without this money, we could not have done it. We just simply couldn’t have done it; it would not have been possible,” Bachalis said.

“We said, how are we going to put ourselves in the best position to have the appropriate amount of funding to put together a master plan that’s going to encompass all of the things that the town has become? The town that we were in 2010 is a little different than the town we are now, and the town that we were in 2000 or 1990 is also very different.”

Jonathan Oliva, Councilman, Town of Hammonton

Work on the master plan, Oliva said, is typically done every 10 years, and as such can be an expensive venture. This grant will mitigate the costs of incorporating the new elements and help reflect the town’s character.

“It’s challenging to do it right if you don’t have the right resources or the right funding. We said, how are we going to put ourselves in the best position to have the appropriate amount of funding to put together a master plan that’s going to encompass all of the things that the town has become? The town that we were in 2010 is a little different than the town we are now, and the town that we were in 2000 or 1990 is also very different,” Oliva said.

Bachalis noted that this is not the first $20,000 grant that Sustainable Jersey has awarded Hammonton.

“Last time we got one to create the water-tax rebate program for installing high-efficiency washers, etc. Last time and this time, this is only one of five grants that they give out at the $20,000 level. I think we get the awards because we do what we say we’re going to do … Over the years, we’ve established a really good name for the town as a sustainability leader. It’s terrific,” Bachalis said.

“We have predominantly been a farming-based community—an agriculture-based community. We are sustainability. We reuse and recycle. We work to live off the land and live off our community. Sustainability isn’t just a nice word that somebody uses in their building in the middle of the city. It’s something that we have to do and use every day for our businesses to thrive. It’s built into our core; a lot of people who live here have been brought up with it. A lot of people who move here see how important it is to us and start to embody it. It’s just a function of who we are as a community.”

Jonathan Oliva, Councilman, Town of Hammonton

DiDonato noted that these previous efforts have helped the town prove that it is a good candidate for future grants.

“Once you’re in the pipeline, and if you do the right thing, they tend to look favorably on you in the future. If you cooperate with them, they want to support the towns that are cooperating, and futuristic. Some towns will take the grant and never utilize the grant, and then turn it back in. They want to see progress,” DiDonato said.

Oliva said that part of the reason that Hammonton is so ripe for sustainability grants and efforts is because it is a concept that is at the core of the town’s ethic.

“We have predominantly been a farming-based community—an agriculture-based community. We are sustainability. We reuse and recycle. We work to live off the land and live off our community. Sustainability isn’t just a nice word that somebody uses in their building in the middle of the city. It’s something that we have to do and use every day for our businesses to thrive. It’s built into our core; a lot of people who live here have been brought up with it. A lot of people who move here see how important it is to us and start to embody it. It’s just a function of who we are as a community,” Oliva said.

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting project. It was originally reported by Joseph F. Berenato for The Hammonton Gazette, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.

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