March 9, 2010
Local and Environmental Leaders Unite Against Developers’ Legislation
An alliance of municipal officials and environmental leaders has united to defeat legislation that would undermine local planning and environmental priorities. S-82 is now scheduled for a vote by the full Senate on Thursday. The Assembly companion, A-437, could be voted on as early as next week.
This legislation, pushed by development interests, would allow a developer to freeze local zoning and land use ordinances by the mere submission of an application. The bill would eliminate the time of decision rule at the local level and instead apply a time of submission standard. The time of decision rule is a judicially recognized principle that decisions are to be made on the basis of the laws, ordinances and regulations in effect at the time the decision is rendered. The rule was created out of judicial respect for the separate powers vested in legislative bodies to make laws.
"Environmentalists and municipal leaders agree! This bill prevents the use of the latest data to protect communities, their citizens, and our environment as developers play beat the clock and rush in applications before zoning changes. Towns can't plan ahead perfectly, mistakes are sometimes made, and the data's always evolving. Current law permits needed changes in midstream in a fair manner and should remain unchanged. Protecting public health, safety, and even future developers trumps existing developers' profits and this bill should be rejected," stated David Pringle, Campaign Director of the NJ Environmental Federation.
Sandy Batty, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions added, "Under this bill, simply filing a development application, even if it is incomplete or inaccurate, will protect the builder from any land use regulation changes. It will circumvent any improvements to municipal zoning, such as protecting local environmental features like forests, streams, or wellhead protection areas, or requiring energy efficient measures, or implementing progressive steps recommended by master plan updates."
“These bills undercut the role of local officials, local residents and the public. The measures will allow developers to rush in applications with the specific objective of eluding conformance with any future improvements to local land use zoning or ordinances. For example, new measures to restrict development based on water supply or sewer or septic capacity limitations, or to prevent hazardous development on steep, erosive slopes or on sinkhole-prone geology could not be implemented,” stated Wilma Frey, Senior Policy Manager, New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
"This bill is dumb growth and a give away to the developers at the expense of the environment and good planning," said Jeff Tittel, Director NJ Sierra Club. “This legislation undermines the rights of citizens and local governments to protect natural resources and to determine their own communities’ future."
Bill Dressel, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities added, “This could not come at a worse time. Right now, the Legislature and the Administration are advancing reforms to COAH and the Fair Housing Act, the most challenging land use issue faced by municipalities, as well as potential changes to the State Plan and DEP regulations. So while reform and changes are being carefully crafted, developers are hoping to rush through changes at the expense of taxpayers and the public good.”
Woolwich Mayor and League Executive Board member Joe Chila stated, “Woolwich is cited as a model to follow for planning and for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). The process our community went through with the State Planning Commission was long and expensive but ultimately beneficial. Our hard work, however, could have been undone if S-82 were in place. This bill could prevent towns from following our example, and that would be most unfortunate.”
The list of organizations opposing S-82 and A-437 includes, but is not limited to, the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commission, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Planning Officials, and the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Bill Dressel, League of Municipalities. 609-915-9072.
David Pringle, NJ Environmental Federation, 732-996-4288
Alison Mitchell or Wilma Frey, New Jersey Conservation Foundation 908-234-1225