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Coutinho, Quigley, Wagner, Watson Coleman Measure Would Streamline Approval Process for Smart Growth Developments

The Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday approved a measure sponsored by Assembly members Albert Coutinho, Joan Quigley, Connie Wagner, and Bonnie Watson Coleman to streamline the development approval process to encourage Smart Growth and remove many of the burdens that often prevent developers from investing in New Jersey.

“This measure will foster greater, smarter economic development in our state,” said Coutinho (D-Essex/Union). “It will also ensure that large projects being undertaken over a longer period of time are not faced with a changing zoning regime during the construction process.”

“The challenges posed by smart growth development are both costly and time consuming,” said Quigley (D-Bergen/Hudson). “These changes will enable us to encourage, not discourage, developers from undertaking a smart approach to future land development at a time when our economy can certainly benefit from these types of investments.”

Under the bill approved today (A-3295), many of the approval rights granted to general developments would be conferred upon Smart Growth developments to streamline the process and avoid fluctuating requirements as developments get underway.

Currently, general development plan approvals confer vested rights upon the applicant for a three-year period following the date of approval. The vested rights acquired by the applicant guarantee that the general terms and conditions on which preliminary approval was granted will not be changed, including but not limited to use requirements; layout and design standards for streets, curbs and sidewalks; lot size; yard dimensions and off-tract improvements.

General development plan approvals also ensure that initial zoning requirements approved at the time of application will not change for at least two years. If the developer has followed the standards prescribed for final approval, the planning board may extend such period of protection for extensions of one year but not to exceed three extensions.

Under the bill approved today, this same approval mechanism would be extended to projects with a nonresidential floor area of 150,000 square feet or more or with 100 residential dwelling units or more, on sites of 100 acres or less in areas located in certain areas as set forth in the 2001 New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan as well as other designated “Smart Growth” areas.

“Our current Municipal Land Use Law encourages sprawl developments on large tracts of land,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “This bill would amend current law to accommodate and encourage smart growth development.”

“Development in smart growth areas is more vertical, utilizing less land and avoiding sprawl, yet the permit process can be a nightmare,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “Under this bill, the many years of talking about achieving smart growth in New Jersey would finally become a reality.”

The sponsors noted that the bill is intended to promote the state’s policy of encouraging development in smart growth areas such as the urban core, the older suburban ring, developed suburbs, and developed centers of the state while discouraging growth in the exurban and rural portions of the State.