New Jersey Zoning Now Requires
Planning/Zoning Board Training
Director, Center for Government Services, Rutgers University
New Jersey has become the fifth state to mandate training
for planning or zoning board members as a result of a law
enacted last year. The new law, P.L. 2005, ch. 133, requires
that current and prospective members as well as alternates
take five hours of training through a basic course in land
use law and planning.
We’re all increasingly aware of how complex zoning
and land use are today,” said state Senator Loretta
Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who sponsored the legislation when
she was in the New Jersey Assembly. Because of that complexity, “we
thought that it was appropriate that this kind of training
was available.” A lay citizen participating in a
planning or zoning board hearing, she observed, should “feel
more confident in [their] neighbors who were sitting up
there judging these cases” if the board members had
gone through such training.
Weinberg credited New Jersey Planning Officials (NJPO),
a statewide organization that offers such training, with
approaching her to request that she back the new law. NJPO
is specifically mentioned in the law as a group with whom
the state must consult in formulating rules.
The New Jersey
Department of Community Affairs (DCA) oversees this program
and published draft regulations in
Jersey Register in January 2006. Once DCA publishes the
final rules, expected in early spring, current and future
board members will have eighteen months to comply with
Under DCA’s draft rules, the training is to cover
three areas: (1) an overview of responsibilities of planning
and zoning boards and differences between the boards; (2)
the municipal master plan; and (3) the process of reviewing
development applications. However, the training can cover
other topics. Participants in training must also pass a
simple, multiple-choice test.
must approve all course providers and the curriculum.
Under the law, municipalities may defray tuition costs
by establishing supplemental fees as part of the local
other states with similar laws are Kentucky, Tennessee,
South Carolina and Louisiana. Each of them requires planning
board members, and, in some cases, zoning board members
to accrue a certain number of credits or hours of continuing
education within a certain time period. For example,
in Kentucky, planning and zoning board members must
four hours of training within 120 days of appointment
or in the year prior to appointment. After that, they
log eight hours every two years. Failure to complete
the training can result in a board member’s removal.
In South Carolina, the law also created a five-member,
state-level advisory committee to review training courses
and publish a list of approved courses.
The law exempts three classes of officials:
- The mayor or person designated to serve on
a planning board in the absence of the Mayor who serves
as a Class I member,
as defined in the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law.
- A member of the governing body serving as a Class III member.
- Any person who is a licensed professional planner.
New Jersey planning and zoning board
members may be eligible for a waiver if they can demonstrate
that they completed a more extensive course twelve months
the course first being offered for current members
or twelve months prior to appointment for future members.
issue certificates to those who successfully
complete the course. Failure of a board member to
within the prescribed time period results in
an automatic termination of the member, but does
planning or zoning board actions that the member was involved
Both NJPO and the Center for Government Services
(CGS) will offer training to comply with the
new law. CGS is
testing a 10-hour pilot program in Camden County
in March 2006, and has worked with a group
that includes representatives
from Municipal Land Use Center at the College
of New Jersey, the New Jersey Chapter of the
the New Jersey Association of Planning and
Zoning Administrators, and New Jersey Future to formulate
and outline. The CGS staff is also developing
a manual to supplement
course lectures and will be expanding its website
to provide additional resources for board members.
completes its trial period, CGS will offer
on a statewide basis sometime in early summer.
Stuart Meck is the director of the Center for Government Services in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He can be reached at by email@example.com.
Article published in March 2006, New Jersey Municipalities