NAIOP New Jersey Seminar: Public and Private Sector Officials Address Key Issues, Stress Cooperation
Media Contact: Evelyn Weiss Francisco (201) 796-7788
Improving New Jersey's permitting process, and the potential impact of the new, proposed State Strategic Plan were the key issues for discussion at the Regulatory Update Seminar presented by NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association. Industry professionals and state government officials on the seminar's panels all agreed that close cooperation between the two sides is essential for reaching the important goals of retaining and creating jobs, improving the state's economy, and making New Jersey a better place to live and work.
"The cooperation we have been seeing between our industry and the state is a dramatically different approach," said Michael G. McGuinness, chief executive officer of NAIOP New Jersey, introducing the program.
"Industry leaders have been working very closely with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs [NJDCA] on these issues," concurred Michael Seeve, President of Mountain Development Corp. President-Elect of NAIOP New Jersey and Vice President of Public Affairs, Seeve moderated a panel entitled "Improving the Local Permit, Code Review & Inspection Process."
A key issue, according to Ed Smith, director of NJDCA's Division of Codes and Standards, is "communicating with local officials on these processes and procedures as they are viewed by our authority." Because of the complexities of the permitting process statewide-New Jersey has 566 municipalities-Smith noted that it becomes the "responsibility of applicants, developers, property owners and their tenants, to file accurate, complete documents. We want to help you help yourself, and our advice is to do it right the first time.
"Communication is extremely important," he said. "And, if you have any questions, do not be afraid to call us. We want to be proactive in helping you."
Panelists addressed proposed amendments to the minor work provisions of the Uniform Construction Code: "This will streamline the process for tenant fit-outs," said Smith. "We are very excited about this."
"This plan will establish a time frame for a project," said John Terry, NJDCA's manager of construction code enforcement. "You can write, in ink, the date that you're going to be able to get your tenant in," he said.
Terry noted that additional changes are proposed as well, impacting everything from energy codes, to wind codes, to the means of egress from "big-box" industrial buildings.
"These changes, particularly those redefining the means of egress from ‘big-box' buildings, take into consideration the unique characteristics of each building," said Ed Klimek, a partner in KSS Architects. "The proposed changes provide a uniformity of applying the code throughout the state."
Responding to a question on how the proposed changes will impact commercial real estate, "they will take the guesswork out of the process," said Ed McDonald of Boston Properties. "With streamlining comes predictability, and that includes not only the developer, but also the vendors-the IT providers, furniture suppliers, and everyone else involved in a project. These changes will be a huge benefit to everyone involved."
"Our relationship with DCA is one of openness," said Seeve, noting that the authority oversees local officials. "It is not a matter of, ‘us vs. them'. DCA wants to be responsive to the industry, and it is our job to follow up."
The much-heralded, new proposed State Strategic Plan came under the scrutiny of a panel moderated by Tom Michnewicz of Somerset Development. "It will set the direction for development and redevelopment throughout New Jersey," he said.
The differences from the existing state plan, according to Dan Kennedy of the New Jersey Office for Planning Advocacy, include a refocusing from local government to state government, and a refocusing from growth management to economic growth.
"The previous growth maps will be replaced with asset-driven criteria," Kennedy explained. "The approach will change from plan endorsement to ‘scorecard' criteria-a checklist that encourages municipalities to take steps to support specific industries. It will focus heavily on jobs, including the impact of residential and retail. The plan will also change from ‘academic' readability to a format that is more accessible and readable for practitioners. It will be sleeker and understandable."
The plan, he said, is part of the Christie administration's approach to "fixing what's wrong with New Jersey. It is not as much about smart growth as it is about smart governance.
"From the standpoint of strategic planning, the equation will be vision, plus mission critical success factors, plus goals, plus action steps equals results," Kennedy said, predicting that it will come to a vote by year's end after the conclusion of public hearings. "And all state agencies will be working together under the same guidance. It is a plan that will not just ‘sit on the shelves.' It will be active, and continually re-evaluated."
DOT and DEP
From the viewpoint of the New Jersey DOT, "our focus is on the fact that transportation is vital to the state's economy," said Andy Swords, the department's director of statewide planning. "The new strategic plan recognizes the importance of transportation to the state. Our priority is the growth areas with transportation deficiencies-something obviously needs to be done. In the context of a given region, we will focus on what needs to be done."
A key approach for DOT, Swords said, is "using the capacity we have in a smarter way." That includes "meeting the demand for more walkable transit options, and we are focused on making cost-effective changes that will result in shorter and more reliable travel times."
Another key agency impacted by the new strategic plan is the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is similarly "working to re-align with the plan," said Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner for water resource management. "We want to be part of the proactive process. Indeed, the transformation is already breaking down our internal ‘silos'."
The bottom line for DEP, Siekerka explained, is to "support our environmental mission in concert with smart economic growth and vitality. We will look at things regionally, on a watershed basis, to provide effective planning for vibrant regions, and a new paradigm, a comprehensive regional environmental plan for protection of communities overburdened by environmental stresses." Other focal points are a renewable energy strategy and sustainable parks, she said.