North Bergen officials have voiced opposition to pending state legislation regarding zoning, urging that the legislation not advance further. Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the North Bergen Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution at a recent June meeting.
The aforementioned legislation is S-2103 in the New Jersey state Senate and A-1294 in the New Jersey General Assembly, which would authorize the conversion of certain office parks and retail centers to mixed-use developments. However, the township is arguing this would essentially take away “home rule” when it comes to planning and zoning.
In the senate, the primary sponsor of the legislation is state Senator Troy Singleton for the 7th Legislative District, including Burlington. In the assembly, the bill is sponsored by Assemblymembers Louis Greenwald, Clinton Calabrese, Mila Jasey, and Raj Mukherji, who represents the current 33rd Legislative District including Jersey City, Hoboken, and Weehawken. All sponsors are Democrats. The bill is still in committee in both the senate and assembly.
‘Local officials best for land use and zoning rules’
According to the resolution, local officials, because of their unique knowledge of local conditions, are in the best position to determine land use and zoning regulations.
The resolution states that this unique knowledge is used to develop a Municipal Master Plan, which is adopted with the goal of promoting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, and only after careful and thoughtful consideration by local officials for its compatibility and consistency with other state, county and regional plans, such as the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, the Coastal Area Facility Review Act, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the Pineland Protection Act, the County Solid Waste Management Plan and Water Quality Management Plan.
The Municipal Master Plan guides the determination to designate land use and zoning districts, which help effectuate the careful development plans and goals outlined within the Master Plan, according to the resolution. The Municipal Land Use Law lays out a comprehensive system allowing for and detailing the process in which applicants for development may seek to deviate from these careful and deliberate land use and zoning regulations through the municipal zoning board’s review of a variance, the resolution states.
According to the resolution, consideration of a land use variance is done by local officials, taking into account the variety of circumstances including the proposed deviation’s impacts on the goals of the Master Plan. The resolution states that the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law provides municipalities with substantial tools to support the redevelopment of blighted sites, including the creation of site-specific redevelopment plans and numerous financial incentives.
Standing against the legislation
According to the township, the legislation would pre-empt local control over land use and zoning regulations, allowing certain qualifying office park and retail center properties to be permitted, as of right, to redevelop as a mixed-use development, not requiring a use variance.
The bill would require a planning board approve an application for development to convert and eligible property to a mixed-used development unless the application causes “substantial detriment to the public good” and “substantially impairs” the intent and purposes of the zone plan and zoning ordinance,” a vague standard that the township said “may be difficult if not impossible to overcome.”
The legislation may interfere with municipalities implementing alternative visions for the redevelopment of office park and retail center properties, including as industrial sites, parkland, or sites for needed infrastructure, according to the township’s resolution.
Additionally, the bill would interfere with existing and potential Redevelopment Plans that were specifically developed to address office park and retail center properties, the resolution states. On top of that, the legislation does not take into account conditions such as flooding and future climate risk that may impact the suitability of a site for mixed-use development, the township argues in the resolution.
The township argues that this “top-down approach, eliminating local land use planning regulations undermines the recognized benefits of municipal land use regulation, without providing the appropriate review for deviation as outlined within the Municipal Land Use Law.”
Following its passage on June 22, a copy of the resolution was forwarded to, Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Governor Phil Murphy, and the League of Municipalities.
Fighting to keep ‘home rule’
The township and other municipalities currently have a say over it’s zoning. That would be taken away under this legislation, Township Administrator Janet Castro told the Hudson Reporter following passage of the resolution.
“We have home rule. We approve our own project, we approve our own zoning,” Castro says. “And we can do that. This in essence, the legislation, takes that away from us.”
As such, the township is fighting for the right to keep planning and zoning in-house.
“The legislation basically takes away home rule,” Castro says. “It takes away the authority of the municipality. So we’re opposing this legislation.”
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