Bill Would Now Give County Planning Boards, State Planning Commission say in “Large Warehouse” Applications before NJ Land Use Boards

A bill pending in the New Jersey State Legislature would send developers to county planning boards or the State Planning Commission for an added layer of approvals when adjacent towns object to warehouse development projects outside of their jurisdiction. The revised version of the bill, sponsored by State Senate President Steve Sweeney and co-sponsored by State Senator Troy Singleton, still gives neighboring towns a say in whether warehouse development is approved across their borders. [CLICK HERE TO READ OUR PREVIOUS POST ON THE ORIGINALLY INTRODUCED BILL.] However, instead of creating “Inter-Municipal Land Use Boards” to consider the regional impact of the proposed warehouse development when neighboring towns object, as the original version of the bill prescribed, the revised bill would require the county planning board to hold a hearing on the regional impacts of any proposed warehouse project opposed by neighboring towns. The revised version of the bill goes further and provides that when a warehouse project is proposed in a town that borders another county, the State Planning Commission would hold the hearing (instead of the county planning board) to consider the regional impacts of the proposed warehouse development. The revised legislation also removes language defining what constitutes a “retail warehouse” that would trigger the requirement for the added layer of approvals when neighboring towns object. Instead, the revised bill leaves it up to the State Planning Commission to define what constitutes a “Large Warehouse.”

Although a new layer of “inter-municipal” public bodies has been eliminated by the revised legislation, developers should be under no illusions: this proposed law would still add time and expense to the development process for a yet-to-be-defined type of warehouse project (ultimately contributing to the cost of doing business for the companies operating in the constructed buildings) and would threaten any project that is supported by the host municipality as a result of objections raised by a neighboring town.

Nevertheless, the bill sponsors are to be commended for initiating what the prime co-sponsor, Sen. Singleton, described in the Senate Budget Committee last week as a “larger conversation about regional planning” and “not pitting one town against another.”  Or as a fellow member of the Senate Budget Committee, Declan O’Scanlon, put it: “too frequently towns approve huge projects right on the border of an adjoining town that might have a bigger impact on the adjoining town than the town that’s approving it.”

But it was the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Paul Sarlo, who best summed-up the situation.  Sarlo, who has also served for two decades as mayor of Wood-Ridge, a municipality in the Meadowlands regional planning district, had this to say before abstaining on voting the bill out of his committee: “I kind of go back and forth…I live with the regional planning that’s done in the [Meadowlands]…there’s been some good out of that but there’s also been some very difficult decisions that have been made that impact one municipality over the other…as a mayor, I don’t know if I want the next town over to tell me what I can and what cannot do.”