Proposed Legislation Would Permit Conversion to Mixed-Use Projects without Obtaining Use Variance

Legislation introduced this week in Trenton would provide a temporary relief period during which owners of certain underutilized shopping centers and office parks could qualify to convert such properties to mixed-use projects without the need to obtain a use variance from the host municipality.

The bill, A-5229, introduced by Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, would provide for a 25-month period commencing with the effective date of the bill during which a proposed mixed-use development would automatically be deemed a permitted use if certain criteria are met.  The legislation would override local zoning standards and permit developers to redevelop these stranded assets without the need for a use variance, allowing developers to seek required approvals from the local Planning Board if the required submission is made within the 25-month period.

An eligible property under A-5229 is defined as an office park of at least 50,000 square feet or a retail center of at least 15,000 square feet, provided that the property has a vacancy rate of at least 40 percent. The permitted mixed-use development must:

  • include both a non-residential component and a residential component (which may be owner-occupied and/or rental units);
  • either reuse the existing building(s) or redevelop the property, but in either case without expanding the square footage of the building(s) on the property;
  • provide that at least 20 percent of any new residential units constructed for owner-occupancy be affordable to very low, low, and moderate income persons or families; and
  • provide that at least 15 percent of any new residential units constructed for rental occupancy be affordable to very low, low, and moderate income persons or families.

An applicant for a mixed-use development will still be required to demonstrate that the application can be granted without causing substantial detriment to the public good and without substantially impairing the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance. Municipalities are provided some level of protection as the developer must comply with reasonable site plan review, design, bulk, and other land use and zoning standards – but with the proviso that the applicable height and setback limitations to be applied must be the greatest height and least restrictive setback limitations allowed within the zoning district.

If enacted, this legislation may provide valuable opportunities to turn marginal properties into profitable projects.  We invite you to return to this blog for updates on A-5229 and to contact us to assist in identifying likely sites for redevelopment.