Pinelands communities do not suffer economically from being in a protected region with development restrictions, according to a recent Pinelands Commission report.

Per capita income and unemployment is about the same in South Jersey’s Pinelands and non-Pinelands towns, while Pinelands communities stand out for lower property tax bills, lower home sales prices and higher rates of population growth, the Long-Term Economic Monitoring Program’s 2013 annual report said.

The main goal of the report, which has been a collaborative effort with the National Park Service since the first was issued in 1997, is to evaluate over time the economic health of the Pinelands compared with non-Pinelands areas in South Jersey and to the state overall. It allows the commission to monitor the effects of its work on family and municipal finances.

“It’s important to keep track of what impact the commission’s work has on the economic health of the Pinelands,” said commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg. “The report has shown ... our work does not have a negative impact. That is good to know.”

Commission Resource Planner Joseph Sosik prepared the report, which uses 2012 data, the latest available. It was the second one the economist has worked on, he said.

“I have to say that we are still doing pretty much on-par with the rest of the state and the non-Pinelands,” Sosik said of the overall economic health of the region. “There was a drop in the housing market with the recession, but we’re not doing any worse than them.”

In the past, however, reports have found that Pinelands towns tended to do slightly better than the rest of the state on most measurements, according to the 2013 document, which was presented to the commissioners at their April 9 meeting.

Pinelands municipalities are those with at least 10 percent of their land in state-designated Pinelands areas, which includes 938,000 acres of the Pinelands National Reserve west of the Garden State Parkway. In 2012, their estimated population was 700,000 in 47 municipalities.

Non-Pinelands towns are the other 155 municipalities in the eight southern New Jersey counties, with a total population in 2012 of 1.7 million.

Some of the findings for 2012:

--Pinelands communities grew faster than non-Pinelands communities.

--The average number of home sales was down in Pinelands municipalities but still outpaced sales in Non-Pinelands communities.

--The average number of building permits issued per municipality in the Pinelands went up for the the first time since 2003.

--Average home sales prices fell in both South Jersey regions and in New Jersey as a whole.

--Per capita income fell in all three areas from 2010, and the unemployment rate rose in all three from 2011 to 2012.

--The average residential property tax bill declined in all three areas.

Individual towns, however, are often far from average.

Unemployment rates in Pinelands towns in 2012 range from a low of about 4.2 percent in Upper Township, to a high of 19.8 percent in Egg Harbor City.

Per capita income varies from a low of $19,122 in Egg Harbor City to a high of $36,128 in Port Republic in the Press readership area, and an overall high of $46,285 in Medford Township.

Median sales prices of homes can vary from a low of about $142,000 in Buena Vista Township and South Toms River to a high of $351,000 in Upper Township.

Data on all 47 municipalities, covering population, income, employment and other issues, is available in the commission’s Municipal Fact Book for 2013 at nj.gov/pinelands/landuse/econ. It includes data on six other municipalities that have some of their land area, but less than 10 percent, in the Pinelands.

Pinelands population growth has outpaced the rest of the state for decades.

“Over the 30-year period (since the Pinelands Commission was created in 1980) the Pinelands grew by 64.9 percent despite the added development restraints of the Comprehensive Management Plan,” the report said in a section on municipal population. “Comparatively, the Non-Pinelands grew by 20.5 percent and the state grew by 19.4 percent during the same period.”

Most of that growth has happened in designated growth areas, Wittenberg said, in towns such as Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township and Hamilton Township in our region, according to a draft of another recent report.

The “Plan Review Report Preview: Regulatory Programs Chapter” covers a little more than a decade from 2001 to 2012.

“It makes clear how much development was pushed to the regional growth areas, which indicates we’re doing our job and the plan is working,” Wittenberg said.

That report also showed the economic recession greatly slowed construction in the Pinelands. Applications received from 2001 through 2012 fell to a low of about 418 in 2012 from 1,405 in 2001. In 2007, there were still almost 1,000 applications a year, when the steepest drop began.

“We’re at the lowest rate for new applications in the commission’s history,” said Regulatory Programs Specialist Robyn Jeney of 2012, as she explained the draft report at the Feb. 21 Pinelands Commission meeting.

However, there was a slight uptick in applications in 2013, rising to 465 in 2013, which is not covered in the plant review report, said Commission Spokesperson Paul Leakan.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219