Groundhog Day, With Some Halloween Thrown In

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

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray lives the same 24 hours over and over again.

New Jersey is having its own Groundhog Day with a law known as the Permit Extension Act, which keeps outdated development permits alive. The act was first passed in 2008, and a new version is now before the state Legislature.

Thanks to work by environmental advocates, citizens and champions in the Legislature, the bill was held just before a vote was to be taken. But that doesn’t means the bill is gone; the Legislature could bring it to a vote at any time.

If passed, the Permit Extension Act would not only tack two extra years onto the life of development permits that would have expired years ago – extending them through 2014 – but would also open up large areas of the Highlands and Pinelands regions to development.

This newly-proposed act is even worse than the 2008 law. It includes a “Dracula clause” that would allow dead development permits – those whose approvals have expired – to be brought back to life.

Most people would agree that land use and development permits should not be based on outdated information and changed conditions.

But if this bill becomes law, stalled and expired development projects could proceed, even if they don’t meet current environmental and public health standards, building codes or local zoning regulations.

In this state we’re in, much can change after permits are issued. Towns increase in population, sewer capacity shrinks, water supplies dwindle, schools fill to capacity, traffic gridlocks, and contaminants are found on former industrial sites. Zoning laws and rules change, new scientific data comes to light, better health and environmental protection regulations are put into place, construction codes improve for safety, and “green” standards are adopted to increase energy efficiency.

But these changing conditions and new regulations won’t matter in many cases if the Permit Extension Act becomes law. A blanket permit extension would allow projects to avoid a new review of public health, economic and environmental impacts.

Supporters of the bill claim it’s needed to help boost New Jersey’s economy, especially the construction sector. By stopping the clock on permit expirations, and not requiring developers to re-apply for approvals, the legislature would save the building industry countless dollars.

But the true cost would come out of New Jersey’s quality of life, with more water pollution, increased sprawl, reduced drinking water supply, more flooding, and loss of local control for municipalities. New “green” building standards couldn’t be enforced.

Permits expire for a reason – to protect public health, safety and environmental quality as conditions change and we learn more. By giving away blanket permit extensions, New Jersey will circumvent a process it should be supporting.

Here in the nation’s most densely populated state, a healthy environment is needed for a healthy economy. People want to live, work and play in communities with clean air and water and parks.

The Permit Extension Act has been put on hold, and should be allowed to die a quick death, including that final wooden stake in Dracula’s heart!

Please contact your legislators and ask them to oppose the Permit Extension Act, A1338/S743. To find your legislators, go to

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at

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