Bill Would Stop The Clock For Developers

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

When you make important decisions, you most likely base them on the best information you have available at the time.  When New Jersey towns make decisions with far-reaching impacts – like approving or denying a new housing development, shopping mall or industrial center – the towns want to base their decisions on the most current information, too.

This common sense approach would no longer be possible if a bill recently passed by the state Legislature is signed into law by Governor Christie. This bill would allow developers to “freeze” current zoning and land use regulations by filing a perfunctory amount of paperwork that, in some cases, would pre-empt local governments from using new information in their decision-making.

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The bill, called the “Time of Decision” bill, refers to a practice in New Jersey land use law, which currently gives developers a three-year immunity from zoning changes once their project receives either preliminary site plan approval or preliminary subdivision approval.  In other words, zoning rules and regulations are locked into place at the time of the land use decision.  The three-year exemption can sometimes be extended another two years, for a total of five.

The proposed bill would radically alter this “time of decision” practice. If signed by Governor Christie, it would grant developers protection from ANY future changes in zoning, at the moment an application for development is filed, regardless of whether the application has preliminary approvals or is even deemed complete!

To address the issue of changing conditions and new information, New Jersey municipalities are required to revise their master plans every six years.  The current “time of decision” practice allows local governments flexibility to amend regulations as part of their master plan update and, when needed, to protect public health and safety. This bill would hamper towns from changing their land use regulations in response to changing conditions or better information.

If this bill passes, we can expect municipalities to be inundated with incomplete applications for land in their communities.  Since little investment will be required to file a short, incomplete application, why would anyone not do so in order to lock in their projects?

The only ones who win here are developers.   Those with the public interest in mind – from local elected officials to concerned citizens – will lose if this bill goes forward.  Urge Governor Christie to veto this bill, and allow municipalities to continue to control land-use planning in their towns and make decisions based on rules in place at the time they make approvals or denials, not when the application is submitted.

I hope you will consult NJCF’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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