Somerset County Investment Framework: A Model Approach

The Somerset County Planning Division has made significant progress on implementing the Criteria-Based Priority Investment Area Framework, the purpose of which is to identify areas for growth, limited growth and agricultural and open space conservation. Somerset County views their efforts in this arena as “[serving] as the organizational structure for the HUD-funded Sustainable Communities Plan for the North Jersey Region, [now known as Together North Jersey], and associated County pilot projects.” Included here is a description of the methods and processes undertaken by Somerset County in this effort.

Somerset County developed the Priority Invested Area Framework using the State’s definitions and criteria for the following:

  • Priority Growth Invest Priority Growth Investment Areas (PGIAs): Where primary growth and investment are preferred and where growth-inducing investment is encouraged.
  • Priority Preservation Investment Areas (PPIAs): Where land preservation, environmental protection and stewardship are preferred.
  • Alternate Growth Investment Areas (AGIAs): Areas within adopted Sewer Service Areas that are neither PGIAs, LPAs or PPIAs, where large scale, growth-inducing investments are not desired.
    • Local Priority Areas (LPAs): A sub-set of AGIAs, LPAs comprise smaller towns and villages that are “PGIA-eligible”, but where job retention and community sustainability are high priorities, and where investments that support quality of life and economic stability are desired
  • Limited Growth Investment Areas (LGIAs): Areas outside of Sewer Service Areas that are neither PGIAs, LPAs or PPIAs, where large scale investment that may lead to additional development is not desired.

Using the State’s defined criteria to locate these areas, Somerset County Planning developed GIS layers for the purpose of mapping and therefore visually representing Priority Investment Areas. Once finalized, this map will be adopted as part of the Sustainable Somerset Plan. In the development of this map a lot of attention was paid to ensuring that the methods were objective, replicable and well-documented.

Somerset County Planning has several “lessons learned” that it can share on the development of their Priority Investment Framework:

  • Use the most specific data possible in development of GIS layers.
  • Give attention to the ordering and prioritization of GIS layers.
  • Develop an open and inclusionary public involvement plan.
  • Develop standards for “documenting and substantiating site-specific and/or area wide changes, additions and/or corrections brought forth by municipalities and other stakeholders.”
  • Develop a strategy for structuring, designing and managing the GIS datasets.
  • Keep careful records of all processes and methods.

Pictured below is the County Investment Framework map developed by Somerset Planning:

The County Investment Framework map is expected to be used in all future planning and capital improvement programming processes. The County will encourage municipal and private investment partners to align their policies and projects with this framework as they proceed.

According to the Supervising Planning at Somerset Planning, Laurette Kratina, the integrity of the data and GIS layers in the initial collection process is the most important and intensive component of developing the investment framework. Strict standards should be established to ensure quality control and future versatility in the data.  All data sets and layers should be standardized to one another. The specific criteria that Somerset County Planning used for their investment framework layers are available online at Somerset County Planning is more than willing to share additional information on the details of the initial development of their GIS layers upon request.

The efforts described here that were undertaken by Somerset County are comprehensive. The scope of their work efforts might be beyond the resources available to some of the other county governments.  NJTPA is prepared to assist in the initial mapping of much of the infrastructure and priority areas, but the Counties will be asked to verify the quality of the data and mapping to ensure that the product truly reflects actual conditions and local priorities.

UPDATE: Click HERE to download the “Somerset County Map to Drive Growth and Preservation Investments: Pilots State Strategic Plan Investment Criteria (February 2012). To learn more please read THIS article titled: “Somerset County Pioneers Local Application of State Strategic Plan Investment Criteria.” 

What is the Local Government Capacity Grant?

The LGCGP is funded through a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and through aligning federal transportation funds made available from NJTPA. Contracts will be signed with Rutgers and reimbursement payments will be made by Rutgers.  A group of Rutgers and NJTPA Committee staff will be assigned to each project as the Technical Representative for TOGETHER NORTH JERSEY.  They will work with the Local Government grant recipient throughout the grant period.

In exchange for the assistance provided by the LGCGP, grant recipients will be required to:

  • Participate in Steering Committee and Standing Committee meetings of TOGETHER NORTH JERSEY;
  • Participate/support public outreach events, coordinate municipal/stakeholder outreach; and
  • Identify/verify Priority Growth Investment Areas, Priority Preservation Investment Areas, Alternate Growth Areas, and limited Growth Areas.

Several elective or supplemental activities are also eligible for funding under the funding category: Sustainable Corridors and Communities: Connecting People to Opportunities and Healthy Places.   Under this category, local Governments may use a portion of their grant funds to undertake planning activities, such as transit-oriented development, affordable housing, streetscape improvements, redevelopment studies, and form-based or smart code development ordinances, among other activities. Grant recipients must be able to demonstrate that the activity is consistent with the goals of the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development and, in particular, projects are sought that can expand transportation choices or improve access to opportunities for residents and the workforce.Grant recipients are advised that they can receive technical assistance support for these activities and studies.  In fact, a pre-qualified “On-Call” Roster of technical assistance contractors is being established now to deliver various forms of technical assistance that may be requested from grant recipients.

To learn more about the Somerset County Investment Framework, please go to