New bill aims to control ‘warehouse sprawl’ across NJ

Daniel J. Munoz//April 22, 2021

New bill aims to control ‘warehouse sprawl’ across NJ

Daniel J. Munoz//April 22, 2021

A new bill in the state Legislature aims to curtail what lawmakers call a sprawl of warehouses up and down the New Jersey suburbs, rural stretches and environmentally sensitive corners of the state.

The measure was introduced by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, a powerful Democrat in the state Legislature. It’s in response to complaints from residents throughout the state that warehouses have choked local traffic, such as an Amazon mega-warehouse in Robbinsville.

Under the bill, local governments that are considering a new warehouse would have 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.

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 the state’s proximity to some of the world’s largest ports, including those in the New York City harbor, make New Jersey a nexus point for warehousing, transportation and logistics.

Michael McGuinness, chief executive officer, NAIOP New Jersey.

“New Jersey is both a logistics state and a home rule state, and that has consequences,” said Michael McGuinness, chief executive officer of NAIOP New Jersey, the state’s commercial real estate trade group.

“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,” he said.

Dozens of projects in the state, encompassing millions of square feet, are in various stages of development–many of them being built in woodlands or farmland in rural stretches of the state.

The Skylands Preservation Alliance, based in the hilly region of northwest New Jersey which bears the same name, is fighting to block several warehouses alongside the Interstate 78 corridor, saying they threaten the area’s ecology.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney speaks at a ground breaking for Stockton University's new Atlantic City dorm on Oct. 14, 2020.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney speaks at a ground breaking for Stockton University’s new Atlantic City dorm on Oct. 14, 2020. – STOCKTON UNIVERSITY

“New Jersey is proud to be known as the Garden State, but we are at risk of becoming the warehouse state,” Sweeney said in an April 22 statement. “The rapid increase in the construction and operation of retail warehouses poses a threat to the preservation of farmland and open space.”

The bill amends 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. And, the process entails a broader ability for surrounding municipalities to have their voices and concerns heard.

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

“A regional perspective is needed, to make sure that … storage and distribution functions aren’t consuming outlying lands that are better used for farming, recreation, or some other non-industrial use, and that redevelopment opportunities near the port that are ideal for warehousing aren’t instead allocated to some other land use that lacks the same location constraints,” wrote Tim Evans, research director for the nonprofit think tank New Jersey Future.

A local government, or “host municipality,” can only go forward if that board determines that the warehouse would not affect the area’s “general welfare.” Or it could go toward if one of the surrounding municipalities withdraws their complaint or works out some kind of agreement with the developer, according to the bill.

“We need to have safeguards in place that allow for reasonable controls before the projects are approved,” Sweeney added. “The host community and neighboring towns need to have a voice in the process and the ability to reject proposals that will cause them harm. The warehouses should be located where they make sense.”