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TRENTON, NJ-If companion bills in the state senate and legislature are passed, it would be very difficult to build any new big-box retail in New Jersey. And, according to observers, bills A-3504 and S-2080 could also impact everything from town centers, to office/retail complexes to transit villages.

The bills target so-called “superstore retailers,” which are specifically defined as single stores or collections of stores of more than 130,000 sf selling over 25,000 SKUs, 10% of which are non-taxable merchandise items.

According to a legislative alert issued by the State Government Committee of the International Council of Shopping Centers, “as presently drafted, this legislation could impede not only development of a 130,000-sf freestanding superstore, but also any strip mall project anchored by a combination of ‘heavy SKU’ retailers such as supermarkets, variety stores and video rental stores.”

According to observers, the legislation could also have an impact on mixed-use projects, including downtown and transit village developments with ground floor and mezzanine retail space typically occupied by grocers and bookstores. According to sources in Trenton, it’s modeled after legislation in California that was introduced specifically to slow down Wal-Mart’s growth in that state.

The companion bills also give most municipalities virtual veto power over such development in neighboring towns. As the bills are written, if a proposed “superstore” is pending before a town’s planning board, any adjoining town can require that the application also be heard by a so-called “joint intermunicipal board.” And if a project is actually approved, any adjoining municipality would be able to appeal the decision.

“For example,” says Ted Zangari, a real estate attorney with the Sills Cummis law firm of Newark, NJ, “a development that is located at ‘Five Points’ in Union [NJ] could be subject to approval by every town sharing a border with Union.”

And developers of such “superstore” projects would also have to pay for regional economic impact studies as part of the process. The studies, which would be prepared by consultants hired by the municipalities, “would expose sensitive data on retailers’ employment, sales, competition and marketing,” says Zangari, who co-chairs ICSC’s Government Relations Committee.

“We’re working with our lobbyists to work through possible amendments if the legislation can’t be killed in its entirety,” Zangari says, noting that the effort is focusing on the square footage requirement and the number of SKUs. He is also concerned that the bill contains “dangerous precedents” involving the pitting of one town against another. And he worries about “the logic of this legislation one day leading to the inclusion of office parks, sports arenas and other significant developments.”

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