Key bill to slow Garden State ‘warehouse sprawl’ sees movement

Daniel J. Munoz//December 10, 2021//

Key bill to slow Garden State ‘warehouse sprawl’ sees movement

Daniel J. Munoz//December 10, 2021//

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A piece of legislation aimed at slowing down so-called “warehouse sprawl” across New Jersey’s farmland was approved by a Senate committee, as lawmakers rush through hundreds of bills in the last month of lame duck.

The proposed Senate Bill 4067 would prohibit farmland from being redeveloped, with lawmakers specifically eyeing new warehouses as the type of development project they’re seeking to prevent. It was approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee at a hearing on Dec. 9.

Because of a surge in online shopping and e-commerce, the state and many parts of the country have seen an explosion in warehouse stock to satisfy the soaring demand. And New Jersey’s proximity to some of the world’s largest ports, including those in the New York City harbor, make it a nexus point for warehousing, transportation and logistics.

Environmentalists are praising the efforts of the measure, saying that New Jersey’s farmland, rural stretches and environmentally sensitive corners are endangered by the glut of warehouse space.

Warehouses have also been criticized by environmentalists and local governments because they snarl traffic in local communities, require a great deal of space, and create impervious surfaces like parking lots, which increase local flooding.

“A loophole in our current law is allowing farmland to be ‘redeveloped’ into warehouses, straining our infrastructure and threatening the future of the farming sector,” reads a prepared statement from one of the bill sponsors, state Sen. Dawn Addiego, D-8th District, who lost her reelection bid last month.

A voice in the process

The actual proposal is technical in its nature: it prevents municipalities from classifying farmland as an “area in need of redevelopment” or “rehabilitation.” An amendment would carve-out environmental remediation projects.

“By taking these steps to exclude farmland from being classified as a redevelopment area or rehabilitation area, we are ensuring the protection of these vital spaces and preventing further warehouse sprawl, which will help keep New Jersey green for decades to come,” added another sponsor, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, who also lost his reelection bid last month.

A much more encompassing bill was introduced by Sweeney in April that would require local governments that are considering a new warehouse to notify neighboring municipalities, who could have their concerns heard by a 15-member “inter-municipal board,” which would have broader leeway in how a warehouse proposal moves forward, if at all.

This proposed Senate Bill 3688 would amend the state’s “Municipal Land Use Law” by enacting a series of drawn out requirements that both the host town and the developer need to satisfy in order for the project to move forward.

That includes the creation of a regional report on how the warehouse would affect the area.

The developer would have to pay for the report, which would focus on the impact to the local environment and traffic, wages and benefits, town revenues, open spaces and affordable housing.

Sweeney said the measure would give host communities and neighboring towns the ability “to have a voice in the process and the ability to reject proposals that will cause them harm.”

“It is likely that a streamlined regional planning approach could better address local concerns, but given our location, wealth and population density, New Jersey is both the first and last mile in the bullseye for the explosion in consumer-driven demand for warehouse and distribution centers,” said Michael McGuinness, chief executive officer of NAIOP New Jersey, the state’s commercial real estate trade group.