Legislation affecting southern New Jersey’s forests and coastal communities was among dozens of bills sent to Gov. Christie for his approval Monday.
The bills include topics such as improving the health of the region’s state forests and helping towns and homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy by waiving certain land use restrictions and providing funding for infrastructure repairs.
Among the bills passed by the state Assembly Monday is a measure allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to selectively manage state forests through a sustainable stewardship plan and use the money from timber sales to pay for other wildlife or habitat restoration projects. An identical bill passed the Senate one year ago.
“Environmental management of many of our forests has been nonexistent and the results have been detrimental to our state’s vegetation, wildlife and water quality,” said Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, one of the bill’s original sponsors.
Some environmental advocates said they want Christie to veto the bill because it does not adequately protect natural resources and lacks enforcement. “This bill sells out the public trust and open space, turning our public lands over to logging interests,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The Senate and Assembly also each approved a bill requiring that municipalities waive local land use rules, such as height restrictions and set-back requirements, for those homeowners elevating their homes to meet new flood standards.
The bill, first proposed by Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Smith, is intended to relieve local zoning and planning boards of a potential onslaught of variance applications by homeowners trying to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.
However, according to the bill passed, the exemption does not apply to homeowners who want to make changes that are not required to meet new flood standards, such as expansions. Those homeowners, the bill states, will still need to go through local land use boards for approval.
The idea of the bill, Whelan has said, is to eliminate the possibility of hundreds of homeowners seeking variances at the same time, which could create lengthy delays for homeowners rebuilding after the storm or bog down municipal officials in paperwork and associated costs.
The League of Munici_palities, however, has opposed the bill because many municipalities already have adopted measures to streamline permitting processes.
Bills to create a loan program for municipalities to pay for infrastructure improvements following Hurricane Sandy and also to upgrade drinking and wastewater systems that were damaged during the storm passed the Assembly, after passing the Senate last week.
A bill to allow residential development on piers in velocity zones in communities that pass ordinances to allow the practice also passed the Assembly Monday and now heads to Christie’s desk. A counterpart bill passed the Senate May 30. The bill is aimed at developers who planned to build high rise apartment buildings on piers in the Hudson River in Jersey City, but were prohibited to do so after advisory base flood elevation flood maps put that shoreline into high risk velocity zones.
State law allows residential development on piers in Atlantic City only, in a rule that had been intended to allow casinos to develop hotels over the water. Municipalities must adopt ordinances allowing this type of development and the development can only occur on existing piers.
The Assembly postponed a vote on a plan to dedicate a fifth of a cent of the state’s sales tax to the state’s open space program. The plan passed the Senate last week by a super majority, which is needed for the measure to be placed on the ballot in November.
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