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TRENTON, NJ-New Jersey has earned a reputation for being unfriendly to business in general and developers in particular, and a coalition of developers and business leaders aims to change that. Simply called “the Coalition,” the group has put together a legislative agenda of a dozen bills addressing various regulatory issues. The aim is not runaway growth, the group says, but “smart growth.”

Noting that New Jersey is one of the most regulated states in terms of environmental protection, and that the standards are in place to protect the state and its natural resources, “all projects must receive approvals from a combination of municipal, county and state-level governing bodies in order to move forward,” coalition founder Ted Zangari, an attorney with Sills Cummis & Gross in Newark, tells GlobeSt.com. “The Coalition not only supports this legislation, but also the dialogue and public debate surrounding it.”

Bill number one on the expansive agenda is a proposal to extend New Jersey’s construction permits until 2012. Coalition members say they have at least 43 sponsors in the State Assembly and 15 in the Senate, with committee hearings slated for June 5 and June 12 respectively.

“Without permit extension, too many worthwhile projects that have already been exhaustively reviewed and approved at every level will be left to die on the vine,” Zangari says. “If fully permitted projects are sent back to the beginning of the process, there is a very real chance that most will not be able to survive another costly, multi-year struggle to obtain approvals. Those projects that do survive will come at the expense of delayed construction jobs and tax revenue to municipalities.”

Diane Brake, president of PlanSmart NJ, a Trenton-based non-profit regional planning group says that “unless this legislation is passed, many beneficial projects, including proposed developments on urban redevelopment, transit hub, portfield and brownfield sites, will fail to move forward. Those communities and their resident will pay the price.”

Beyond the Permit Extension Act, the Coalition’s legislative agenda includes changes to the State Planning Commission that would make that body citizen-based, with all commissioners being public members. Another proposal would amend the Revenue Allocation District Financing Act to broaden revenue sources, and another would expand the state’s Brownfields Program to designated “smart growth” areas.

The group also proposes to amend the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program to lower the project cost for eligibility while adding more locations to the existing nine cities that qualify. Another proposal would create a fund to bridge the gap when state BEIP and BRAG grants, tied to creation and retention of jobs, are sufficient to match incentives offered by competing states.

The Coalition also wants to transfer the Smart Growth Ombudsman office from the Department of Community Affairs to the Governor’s office as a streamlining measure; create independent science and policy review boards, for oversight purposes, within the New Jersey DEP; streamline the brownfield review process; and expand the “vertical” general development plan approval program for mixed-use projects to “smart growth” areas and to sites of less than 100 acres.

And two other proposals are still being debated internally by Coalition members. One would eliminate the “time of decision” rule, freezing local ordinances in place as they exist when a development application is formally submitted to a municipal land use board. The other would provide for the sale at auction of restricted liquor licenses as a means of generating private investment.

“A vote against this legislation means the clean-up of fewer contaminated sites, fewer groundbreakings, less sales and income tax revenue, fewer jobs, less urban renewal and fewer affordable housing units,” Zangari says. “Most importantly, ‘no’ means a lack of vision for New Jersey’s future.”

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