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Builders Gone Wild: The Developers' Dirty Dozen

Date : Wed, 04 Jun 2008 12:15:45 -0400

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jeff Tittel June 4, 2008 (609) 558-9100

Builders Gone Wild The Developers’ Dirty Dozen

Today the Builders Association and their allies are releasing a package of bills they call an economic stimulus package. In fact, what the bills would do is overturn environmental laws, undermine good planning, promote Sprawlfare, and give tax breaks and public subsidies to wealthy developers at a time when the state of New Jersey is going broke. “This package of bills will put sprawl on steroids and allow for the paving over of half of New Jersey’s open spaces,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The bills in the package are taken from the Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Housing Task Force reports, which were written in secret without any input from the public or environmental or citizens’ groups. They include:

1. The Permit Extension Act – This bill would extend all permits for six years and revive those that have expired within the past two years, undermining the ability of the state to implement new environmental regulations, building codes, or local zoning ordinances and indiscriminately promoting building, regardless of whether the project is a good one or a bad one.

2. Changes to the State Planning Commission – This bill would create a new cabinet position for the head of the State Planning Commission and make that cabinet member more powerful than the governor or any other member of the cabinet. It would give the State Planning Commission the ability to veto Green Acres acquisitions, stop Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules and regulations from being adopted, and even reach into municipalities and force them to change their zoning. “Basically the State Planning Commission would become the enforcement mechanism for the builders to overturn environmental regulations and local zoning and planning,” explained Tittel.

3. Amendments to Revenue Allocation District Financing Act – This bill would give tax subsidies to large-scale developers and have the public pay for things like parking decks, buying property, and environmental remediation.

4. Expansion of Brownfields Program to Smart Growth Areas – Instead of brownfield monies being used solely to clean up contaminated sites, under this bill they could also be used for things like building a shopping center next to Round Valley Reservoir, promoting sprawl and undermining environmental clean up.

5. Amendments to Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program – This bill would give builders up to a $50 million tax credit for creating 250 jobs near a train station – so building a Wal-Mart within a half mile of a station would qualify. This will cost the treasury billions of dollars, raising taxes for the rest of us.

6. The New Jersey Closing Fund – This bill would create a fund to give money to businesses that might consider leaving New Jersey or out-of-state businesses contemplating expanding into New Jersey. What it means is that if a developer says another state is offering him a certain amount of money to leave, then the state of New Jersey would give him the same amount to stay. This is a complete ripoff of the taxpayers and would cost us hundreds of millions of dollars.

7. Amendments to Ombudsman Act – This bill would bring back Fast Track, the law that even the Bush Administration, not known for strong environmental policies to say the least, said undermined environmental protection. It would undermine public participation in the permit process and make it virtually impossible for the DEP to deny a permit. It would also create a lobbyist for the developers in the governor’s office whose job would be to push through permits for development projects.

8. Creation of Science and Policy Review Boards – With this measure, the builders would be able to prevent the DEP from adopting any new regulations.

9. Streamlining of Brownfield Review Process – This bill calls for the outsourcing of oversight of environmental cleanups, taking it away from the DEP and instead allowing the polluters to hire their own consultants to certify that their sites are clean. This would weaken protections that keep toxics out of our communities and away from the citizens of New Jersey.

10. “Vertical” General Development Plan Approvals – This bill would allow builders 20 years to build general development plans of five acres or more, grandfathering these projects against any changes in state or local law and giving developers a huge tax break until their projects are completed.

11. Elimination of “Time of Decision” Rule – This bill would freeze local ordinances from the time when the developer makes an application, undermining home rule, good planning, and citizens’ rights to have a say in development that impacts their lives.

12. Smart Growth Liquor Licenses – This bill would subsidize development projects by allowing developers to get as many as three free liquor licenses for beer and wine. “I guess the developers recognize that once they get through paving over New Jersey and raising our taxes through tax breaks and subsidies, we’re all going to need a drink,” commented Tittel.

The builders’ package would undermine citizens’ rights when it comes to development, local planning, and the environment and how these things impact their lives and property. It would create a system of vast public subsidies for developers and allow those developers to control New Jersey both politically and environmentally. At a time when the state is has no money for schools and is closing hospitals and possibly parks as well, giving billions of dollars in subsidies to the largest and most profitable developers in New Jersey will also destroy us economically. “If Governor Corzine does not stand up to this package of bills, he’ll no longer be governor – the New Jersey Builders Association will be,” said Tittel.

Smart Growth is simply being used as an excuse – these bills have nothing to do with Smart Growth. Some of the places that are considered “Smart Growth areas” under the State Plan are Supwana Meadows national Wildlife Refuge in Salem County, the banks of Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County, the Wanaque Reservoir in the Highlands, Petty’s Island, parts of the Pinelands and Meadowlands, barrier islands along the shore, and the flood-prone areas along the Delaware and Passaic Rivers, such as Oakland and Wayne. In fact, under the builders’ definition of Smart Growth, more than half the vacant land in New Jersey would qualify as a Smart Growth area.

“Calling it Smart Growth is like calling Ben and Jerry’s dietetic,” said Tittel. “This is the opposite of Smart Growth – it promotes sprawl in some of New Jersey’s most environmentally-sensitive areas. The builders want to give the State Plan teeth, but it’s only going to end up biting us on the bottom.”

“This package undermines not only environmental protections, but the basic rights of citizens and communities to govern themselves,” he concluded. “It’s undemocratic. If these bills go forward, the Sierra Club will be petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove all jurisdiction for environmental programs from the state of New Jersey.”

##########

Becca Glenn, Program Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618

609-656-7612: phone

609-656-7618: fax

Received on 2008-06-04 12:21:11

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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