TRENTON-Gov. Chris Christie recently signed the Time ofApplication Bill into law, effectively ending a 12-year battlebetween developers and the League of Municipalities.

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The new law amends the Municipal Land Use Law to abolish, exceptin limited circumstances, the Time of Decision rule, which hadpreviously allowed municipalities to change zoning ordinances,including eliminating permitted uses, at any time prior to a finaldecision of a land use board. The new law creates a Time ofApplication standard, under which an applicant may proceed before aland use board based on the zoning ordinances in effect at the timeof filing an application without fear that a subsequent ordinanceadoption will scuttle their application. One notable exception tothe law is rezoning for public health and safety issues.

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While many municipal officials and environmental groups opposedthe signing of this bill, it enjoyed widespread bipartisan supportin both houses of the Legislature and the Governor had previouslycommitted to signing some form of change to the Time of Decisionrule during his campaign.

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"The legislation does not guarantee approval of a land useapplication, but instead allows for the application process to moveforward without the unnecessary hurdle of constantly changingrequirements while the application is pending," says MichaelMcGuinness, CEO of NAIOP New Jersey, which supported thelegislation. In short, he tells GlobeSt.com, it brings greaterpredictability and fairness to the process. The bill also givestowns a year to update their local planning documents. "For manyyears, some of these municipalities never did what they weresupposed to be doing anyway, like updating their master plansperiodically," says McGuinness. "Not a lot," he adds. "Butcertainly some."

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And developers are also cheering the move. "Without getting intospecifics, we have a community where we went through all of thelocal approvals--every sewer hookup and water main--before beingtold that there was a zoning change, which shifted the mix ofpeople from age-restricted to non," says Somerset Developmentpresident Ralph Zucker. "Even though the change didn't affect anyof the underlying physical aspects of the project, some of theagencies said that they might want us to start over from scratch."According to Zucker, "that is nothing short of insanity and it'sthe type of thing that goes on all day in New Jersey."

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"Especially in these times, it's just inexcusable to lead ondevelopers, who will potentially spend hundreds of thousands ofdollars to have all of these site studies done," says McGuinness,who adds that this bill is consistent with the theme now of ourgovernment, which is to be more accountable, predictable andresponsible.

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But the League of Municipalities was clearly not behind thebill. According to William G. Dressel Jr., executive director ofthe New Jersey branch, the bill should more appropriately be taggedthe "time of incomplete application, since the submission of anincomplete application would grant vested rights to the developer."He said in a statement that this legislation "would subject thepublic interest to a race between the developer and thetime-consuming process that a municipality must undertake to reviseits master plan and zoning ordinances. It is a race themunicipality cannot win." What's more, he continued, "the time ofdecision rule has been in place for decades, through both boomingeconomic times and economic recessions. Somehow, the rule did notdiscourage economic development in booming years, but we are nowexpected to believe that it does in lean economic times?" Dresseladded that the rule is rarely used, and if abused by amunicipality, the developer does have redress through the courts."On those rare occasions when there is an unreasonable action, thecourts can--and have--acted to override actions."

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But many in the commercial real estate industry feel thatdevelopment has been hindered by municipality's home rulehospitality. In fact, the state has been bleeding jobs to placeslike Pennsylvania for years now. "We are not saying thatmunicipalities cannot change their zoning, but if they do it needsto be for a good reason," McGuinness notes. "And these good reasonsshould be limited to health and public safety."

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But what's up next for the state now that the time ofapplication battle is behind it? According to McGuinness, heexpects some sort of COAH reform before the budget break."Minimally, there will be a bill out of the Senate, headed by Sen.Raymond J. Leskiank (D), by the end of June," he tells GlobeSt.com.McGuinness also says that reforming the state plan--essentially aguide to where development in the state should occur--is high onhis list. "Right now, one agency says, 'this is where you need tobuild,' while another says, 'no you can't,' " he relates. This islargely because all of the different agencies use separate data,and what's accessible to one department may not be so for the next."With the help of the legislature, we hope to have a much betterintegration of data from which to make land use decisions,"McGuinness says.

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