A new rule proposed by the state would require local code officials to review a developer’s building plans and respond with recommendations within 20 business days.
The new regulation by the Department of Community Affairs would streamline the local approval process and add predictability to commercial developments, a panel of experts said today at an event hosted by the New Jersey chapter of commercial real estate development association NAIOP. The provision would be especially helpful to tenant fit-out projects, they said.
“You can write, in ink, the date that you’re going to be able to get your tenant in,” said John Terry, the DCA’s manager of construction code enforcement, one of four panelists who spoke at the New Jersey Law Center, in New Brunswick.
Under the proposed “plan release with condition rule,” local code officials would have 20 days to review building plans and return them to a developer with conditions for approval, said Ed Smith, director of the DCA’s Division of Codes and Standards. Developers would then be required to correct any deficiencies noted by the officials as they proceed with construction, adding a level of accountability for the builder.
The rule change will be published in the New Jersey Register on June 18, opening a public comment period that ends Aug. 17, the DCA officials said.
The new provision would be “a huge benefit” to construction schedules and tenant moves, said Ed McDonald, a construction manager with Boston Properties Inc. The benefit also would trickle down to tasks like furniture deliveries and IT installations.
“It takes the guess work out of everything now,” said McDonald, another panelist. “The predictability part of this is a great, great asset to us developers.”
The proposal was one of several rule changes the DCA officials said would benefit developers. Terry, the DCA construction code manager, also discussed a move to increase the maximum allowable travel distance to an exit in industrial buildings.
The change, from 250 to 400 feet, would be allowed in one-story buildings that have automatic heat and smoke roof vents, and are equipped with automatic sprinklers, he said.
The amendment will be welcomed by professionals involved with developing modern distribution centers that are becoming much deeper, longer and higher, said Edmund P. Klimek, a partner with KSS Architects, in Princeton. It will also eliminate the need to seek travel distance variances from local officials on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“I can’t underscore what a difference this will make in our ability to produce large distribution centers that we know our clients demand,” Klimek said.
The rule changes resulted from discussions among the DCA, industry members and NAIOP New Jersey, the panelists said. The moderator, Mountain Development Corp. President Michael Allen Seeve, said the agency has been extremely responsive to the industry’s concerns about construction code regulations.
“It’s not an ‘us versus them’ thing,” said Seeve, who is president-elect of the NAIOP chapter. “It’s the kind of thing where our professionals should be working with the DCA to make sure the projects are done the way they ought to be.”
Some audience members raised concerns that some municipalities would simply ignore or work around the new 20-day requirement for building plan reviews. But the panelists urged them to contact the DCA about any towns that are “repeat offenders” or notoriously difficult to work with.