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TRENTON, NJ-A new state law says local zoning and planning board members will not be seated unless they agree to take a basic course in land use law and planning. Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed the bill into law late last week.

Under the terms of S-2133 in the state senate and its companion bill, A-3803 in the assembly, first-time zoning and planning board appointees “shall not be seated…unless the person agrees to take the basic course [in land use law and planning].”The companion bills were introduced and sponsored by senators Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex County) and Diane Allen (R-Burlington and Camden counties), and assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen County).

The new law authorizes the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to prepare and offer the basic course, which “shall consist of no more than five hours of scheduled instruction and shall be structured so that a member may satisfy this requirement within one calendar day,” as the law reads. Community Affairs will work with the New Jersey Planning Office to establish the standards. Once a first-time member agrees to take the course and is seated on a local board, he or she will be required to fulfill that agreement within 18 months.

The law also has a provision for defraying the cost of taking the course. The money to pay for it will come from fees normally charged by municipalities to applicants presenting their projects before local planning and zoning boards.

There are some exemptions, however. Those who will not be required to take the course include mayors who also serve on local boards, as well as licensed professional planners and anyone who supplies proof of having taken a more extensive course in land use law and planning. The new law, which takes effect immediately, does make it clear, however, that even if a member is found not to have completed the requisite course, decisions and recommendations in which that individual participated “shall not be invalidated.”

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