At least two new bills in the Legislature would provide some state control over the booming warehouse industry, whose expansion is almost entirely controlled by local governments.
Advocates seeking to stem the industry’s explosive growth over the past few years say that is unlikely to be accomplished by those local governments that typically welcome large warehouse projects because they increase tax revenue.
Critics say the only way to slow industrial land consumption, truck traffic and the industrialization of rural enclaves is to subject it to regional or statewide policies that recognize its effects extend beyond municipal boundaries.
This statewide policy goal went beyond the report adopted by the State Planning Commission in September, which made many recommendations for municipalities on how to respond to warehouse applications. But the report clearly stated that the commission does not have the authority to violate the tradition of state self-government.
Lawmakers are now beginning to respond to growing calls to pass laws requiring counties and cities to review storage impacts in detail before approving a project and giving legal force to recent state guidelines.
Pressure to follow government guidelines
One billintroduced by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) this month, would require municipal planning boards to bring their local master plans in line with the State Planning Commission’s new warehouse guidelines, as well as the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, a land-use plan.
Turner said her bill aims to codify the guidelines, despite the commission’s emphasis that it does not have the power to weaken local governments’ authority over land use.
“The only process that will bring significant change will be a review of legislation requiring/imposing size limits and a regional process.” — Jim Gilbert, former chairman of the State Planning Commission
“They’re going to have to follow the government guidelines that are in place in terms of location and make sure they have the infrastructure in place to carry that additional traffic and provide safety in terms of the neighborhoods that are going to be affected,” she said in an interview. . “They will have to follow what used to be just a guide.”
Turner acknowledged that the bill’s requirements would be “difficult” because many municipalities strongly defend self-government.
“It’s designed that way because we don’t have a lot of land in New Jersey to use, and we just can’t keep building warehouses like this that take up so much valuable space,” she said. “When municipalities consider these opportunities, they have dollar signs dancing in their heads. There are responsibilities that go along with that.”
Waiting for defeat
Turner said she’s not opposed to warehouses in principle, but wants to make sure they’re not built in places that are already congested or socially congested. If the bill becomes law, it likely won’t stop a hotly contested plan to build 5.5 million square feet of warehouse space in West Windsor in the Turner area, but it will hopefully prevent similar plans from becoming a reality elsewhere in the state, she said. said.
That project, which Turner called a microcosm of the statewide warehouse development problem, was approved by local planners in June but still awaits county approval and is only partially approved by the two state agencies that must sign off on it.
She said the Office of Legislative Services told her the bill would not conflict with the state’s home rule law. She said she didn’t know how much support the bill would get in the Legislature.
“When municipalities consider these opportunities, they have dollar signs dancing in their heads. There are responsibilities that go along with it. – Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer)
Jim Gilbert, former chairman of the State Planning Commission, predicted that local government interests would defeat the bill, though it would “get attention” in the Legislature before that happened.
Gilbert, a longtime proponent of a regional approach to warehouse policy, urged lawmakers to limit local authority over land use.
“The only process that will bring significant change will be a review of the legislation that requires/imposes size limits and the regional process,” he said. “The real power in managing growth is the legislature. They delegated that zoning authority to the cities, and they can take it back any time they want.”
There is no decline in demand
Demand for warehouse space and other types of industrial real estate in northern and central New Jersey remained strong in the third quarter, despite rising inflation and lower demand from e-commerce. according to Newmark’s latest report, a commercial real estate company. In the three months to September, rents rose and vacancies fell, continuing a multi-year trend.
New Jersey’s economy is heavily dependent on warehousing and related industries. The sector accounts for 12.2% of all jobs in the state and more than 15% of its payroll, according to the Office of Planning Advocacy, the executive arm of the State Planning Commission.
Another billintroduced in September by Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Gloucester), requires county planners to review plans for warehouses larger than 500,000 square feet before municipalities approve them to ensure that residents and surrounding municipalities do not suffer “significant negative impacts,” such as impacts traffic or storm water.
“It is important to provide state counties with the means to mitigate the negative land use, environmental, economic, tax and social equity impacts of large municipal warehouses,” Sawyer’s bill states.
The third way?
In the meantime, the nonprofit New Jersey Future is developing wording that lawmakers could use for any other bill that seeks to give legal force to the State Planning Commission’s recommendations.
“The basic idea is to take the principles laid out by the Office of Planning Advocacy in their document and try to institutionalize them,” said Tim Evans, the nonprofit’s director of research. “We like what’s there. The only question is how do we get cities and government agencies to actually do it.”
One option for the bill, Evans said, would be to require the four state agencies that oversee various aspects of land use to bring their storage policies in line with state guidelines.
New Jersey’s economy is heavily dependent on warehousing and related industries. The sector accounts for 12.2% of all jobs in the state and more than 15% of its payroll.
Evans said he is also considering whether the bill could require the State Planning Commission to create a warehouse plan that includes specific sites that can be shown on a map. He argued that such a map would be easier to use than a manual-based written description and would “save municipalities a lot of trouble.”
With this proposal and two bills in the Legislature, there is movement to create a legal framework to manage warehouses in New Jersey, Evans said.
Where are the municipalities
As for municipalities, they’re neither for nor against warehousing, Mike Serra, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said last week at an Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee hearing on the impact of warehousing on farmland. .
He said his members support both conservation and economic development, as well as self-government. “We want local officials to have the best opportunity to ‘say yes’ to applications that promote the public interest and ‘no’ to applications that don’t promote the public interest.”
He said local officials, particularly those in the farming community, are “very concerned” about the warehouse development, especially because it could lead to increased traffic and stormwater runoff.
But they don’t want to hinder the job growth and local taxes that warehouses provide, so many are looking for a way to balance the pros and cons.
“What we’re looking for is ‘how do we thread this needle?’ Since in many cases municipalities have the final say, how do we make the best decision?” he said.