NEWARK, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy today signed legislation that will allow municipalities to create a temporary, supplemental zoning board to handle backlogs of development applications -- an all too common problem in Newark, which is seeing a as a wave of redevelopment .
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. M. Teresa Ruiz and Ronald Rice, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin and Assemblyman Jamel Holey, allows city councils to create secondary zoning boards through a municipal ordinance.
Ruiz said she sponsored the legislation in response to concerns brought to her attention by Newark Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr.
"I want to thank the councilman for brining this issue to my attention so we could address it as a team," Ruiz said. "This quality of life legislation will not only benefit Newark residents, but any community in the state that is facing the kind of development we are fortunate to have in Newark."
Ramos said he was hearing complaints from homeowners with minor projects as well as developers seeking to invest in the city that it was taking too long to get a hearing before the Zoning Board.
“They could wait anywhere from four to eight months to have their application heard on the agenda,” Ramos said. "That’s a long time.”
Pintor-Marin said she hopes the law will help move projects in Newark.
"This law will help both homeowners who are looking to improve their homes as well as developers seeking to invest in our city," Pintor-Marin said.
The legislation allows a seven-member supplemental zoning board to be created for a year to review applications. It would have the same powers as a permanent zoning board.
Newark’s backlog of applications for variances is caused by several different factors.
A variance allows a developer to build on their property in a way that is not permitted by the city's master plan, which is updated and adopted every 10 years by municipalities. The city's last master plan was approved in 2012, and development patterns have changed a lot since then.
That’s why so many projects require variances to move ahead.
In Newark, the zoning board has to hear both large projects for tall towers and smaller projects for minor improvements to homes. The zoning board only meets twice every month for regularly scheduled meetings, and the larger applications make it difficult to get through an entire agenda.
The leftover applications that couldn’t be heard by the zoning board, in part, create that backlog. Some developers also ask for adjournments to come back at a later date if they don’t believe they can convince a majority of zoning board members to approve their application.
The city is also trying to get ahead of the problem. City council approved a measure in March that increases the number of regular zoning meetings from 22 annually to 33. There would also be 10 allowable special meetings each year.
Applicants could also pay a fee to convene a special meeting. Those fees would help fund more jobs in the city’s Department of Economic and Housing Development, which is pivotal in the reviewing applications.