Two groups that are usually on opposite sides, local government officials and environmentalists, Thursday leaders, called on Gov. Chris Christie to veto legislation they believe would undermine local zoning, planning and environmental protections.
The bill would allow a developer to freeze local zoning by the mere submission of an application. The measure, S-82/A-437, was approved by the Legislature before the budget recess and now sits on the governor's desk.
"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,'' David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation said. "Towns can't plan ahead perfectly, mistakes are sometimes made, and the data's always evolving. Current law permits needed changes 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.''
William G. Dressel, director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said the legislation is bad land use policy and 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 (environmental) regulations,'' Dressel said. "So while reform and changes are being carefully crafted, developers are hoping to rush through changes at the expense of taxpayers. The governor has the opportunity to balance the interests of developers and the public's interest. The public good should prevail."
Sandy Batty, director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said that under the bill, filing a development application, even if it was incomplete or inaccurate, would protect the builder from any land use changes. She said it would hinder cities and towns from doing sound planning, such as protecting local environmental features like streams or steep slopes, or requiring energy efficient measures, or progressive steps recommended by master plan updates.
Amy Hansen, policy analyst for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, agrees.
"If this bill is signed, we can expect municipalities to be inundated with incomplete applications for land in their communities," she said. "Since little investment will be required to file a short, incomplete application, why would anyone not do so in order to lock in their projects? Townships won't be able to plan or protect natural resources in any comprehensive manner."
Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary, could not say if the governor will sign or veto the legislation. "All I can say at this time is that it is under review,'' he said.