Mixed-use zoning bill removes control of buildings from cities, mayors say

NEW JERSEY — A bill that would allow developers to convert “underutilized” shopping malls and office buildings into mixed-use developments with housing is an unprecedented move to take local control of cities, officials said. municipal officials.

Senate Bill S2013 and its Assembly companion A1294 would allow developers who want to turn empty office parks and shopping malls – known as “stranded assets” – into a mix of housing and uses commercial, for a limited number of two one-year periods.

Planning boards would be required to accept applications for mixed-use development as long as they meet the bill’s requirements, which include not extending the building’s footprint and using empty properties at at least minus 40%. No waiver of use would be required under the bill.

Legislators sponsoring the bills – Senator Troy Singleton (D-7th District) and Assemblymen Louis Greenwald (D-6th District), Clinton Calabrese (D-36th District), Raj Mukherji (D-33rd District ) and Mila Jasey (D-27th District) — say change is needed to revitalize communities that are held back by what they say are outdated and rigid zoning regulations.

“In recent years, vacant business and office parks have become economic eyesores and burdens to communities across the state,” Singleton said. “By reallocating these outdated and unused spaces into mixed-use developments, we will be able to provide more new housing and new opportunities for economic growth in our communities.”

“Our state needs to rethink its housing strategies and goals to provide residents with more housing options,” Greenwald said. “The millions square feet of vacant office parks and shopping centers across New Jersey are ripe for redevelopment. Incentivizing developers to convert them into mixed-use communities would increase our state’s housing supply and lower real estate prices to help us meet our affordability goals.”

Brick Township Mayor John G. Ducey said the bill robs cities of the ability to manage development in a way that makes sense for their area.

“We are trying to push back any type of development,” Ducey said Wednesday, after the Brick Township council approved a resolution opposing the bills. “It will increase the population. Our roads cannot support it now.”

Brick Township has a citizens’ committee named Brick Open Space Savers, which has worked to identify open spaces that the city can then preserve through the use of Open Space Funds. It was created, Ducey said, to try to reclaim parcels and preserve them before developers bought them to build homes.

If commercial properties were open to residential development, it would open a Pandora’s box that Brick officials could do nothing about, Ducey said.

“We have a large commercial district. If this could suddenly be converted into housing without input from council or residents, the overcrowding in the city would be unbearable,” he said.

Manchester Township Mayor Robert Hudak, who has been Toms River Township’s deputy planner since February 2020 and previously worked for a private company, said the bill would put a “severe stranglehold” on the township due necessary services, infrastructure and infrastructure. the utilities that would be needed to support the additional accommodations.

“Manchester’s drinking water is operated by the Manchester Township Water Utility with 10 wells, seven which tap into the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer and three which tap into the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy,” Hudak wrote in a letter to the president. of the Senate Nick Scutari, urging him not to mail the bill.

“Our township is already approaching our state mandated water allocation limits in our eastern region which is located in the CAFRA section of the township,” Hudak wrote. “To require additional mixed-use developments in our city without the township having a say in it, our system would need additional water capacity as well as the infrastructure to accommodate this new capacity.”

Hudak said the bill “completely undermines all of the careful consideration and planning

it goes into municipal zoning efforts and gives predatory developers a “right” to invalidate the opinion of the people.”

The bill says the driving force behind the mixed-use proposal is the country’s changing demographics, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, and the changes they are bringing to the world of work.

“Millennials are driving these changes because there are so many of them,” said the invoice textsaid. “People between the ages of 20 and 36 outnumber any other generation in the country. Companies want to hire them, sell to them, or both. Whereas in the past, it was common for employees to move to find a jobs, today it’s more and more common for businesses to relocate to areas where millennials want to live, work and play.”

This means a shift from the suburban lifestyles of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to a more urban landscape: “Density, walkability, public transit, work-life balance and urban amenities have increased dramatically as local quality of life attractions. says the bill, citing a 2015 study by Rutgers professors James W. Hughes and Joseph J. Seneca.

“Single-use zoning ordinances ‘often unintentionally prevent developers, employers, and workers from providing the kinds of modern spaces they desire’, therefore, ‘hindering a community’s economic competitiveness,'” says the bill, citing the PlanSmart NJ 2016 report.

Legislation states that an office park must be at least 50,000 square feet and a shopping center at least 15,000 square feet, with a vacancy rate of at least 40%, in order to be converted into a mixed use. It should reuse existing buildings without increasing the square footage, or redevelop it without increasing the square footage that occupied the site.

If it offers new residential units, at least 20 percent built for owner occupancy and at least 15 percent of rentals should be reserved as low-income, very-low-income, or moderate-income housing.

Planning boards would be able to issue conditional approvals that set out requirements for parking, water supply, sanitary sewer capacity, stormwater management, and other typical zoning rules, along with ” the greatest height and least restrictive setback limits permitted in the zoning district” under a community ordinances.

“The legislation essentially takes away autonomy,” said Janet Castro, the township administrator of North Bergen, whose Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the bill, the Hudson Reporter reported. “We have an internal regime. We approve our own project, we approve our own zoning. … In essence, the legislation takes that away from us.”

“The Township of Manchester is proud of its carefully planned zoning ordinances and allocations given that we are in the heart of the Pinelands,” Hudak wrote in his letter to Scutari, noting that much of the township’s 82 square miles are protected. due to the sensitivity of the pine forests.

The legislation would handcuff the city in its efforts to protect these sensitive areas, he said.

Ducey said the legislation, which the League of Municipalities opposes, would upset zoning and could impact cities’ obligations for affordable housing.

“I guess if you’re part of this Fair Housing Council it (the legislation) would increase everyone’s obligation,” Ducey said. “When they look at it now, it only looks at residential zoning. It would change that equation” because of the possibility of commercial areas becoming mixed-use, he said.

“They want to turn not only our city but the state into one big city,” Ducey said.

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