A controversial state Assembly bill that could radically change how planning and zoning occurs in coastal towns has advanced out of committee, along with another bill that would require storm-damaged properties to undergo an environmental review before rebuilding.

The bill creating a coastal commission — an idea first proposed in the 1980s by then Gov. Thomas Kean — cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee in a 4-2 vote, after more than an hour of discussion between environmental advocates, committee members and other advocacy groups. The bill has no Senate counterpart.

As proposed, the bill creates a commission made up of 19 people, appointed by the governor, who would be charged with planning and zoning decisions similar to those of the Pinelands and Highlands commissions, along with creating a new construction code, for all areas that currently are delineated in the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act.

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“Nature does not stop at municipal boundaries,” said Assemblyman Peter Barnes, D-Middlesex, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Unfortunately the way New Jersey has traditionally dealt with development, we stop at municipal boundaries. Municipalities can only look at their own four corners.”

Environmental advocates, including the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the American Littoral Society, Clean Ocean Action and the New Jersey Environmental Federation, strongly support the bill, saying a regional approach to development is crucial to rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.

However, the New Jersey League of Municipalities said it has strong concerns about enacting a coastal commission because of the potential for regulatory gridlock. Anthony P. Mercantante, Middletown administrator and member of the league’s Sandy rebuilding taskforce told the committee that the CAFRA zone splits many municipalities and that communities that do not have a representative on the commission could find development approved that the community itself opposes.

“The concept and idea of a larger-scale planning effort for the New Jersey coastline makes a lot of sense, but the question is how to get there,” Mercantante said.

Other bills that advanced include:

* A bill that removes the right to rebuild provision within CAFRA, which allows storm-damaged properties to be rebuilt without a permit rebuild. There is Senate bill counterpart.

* A bill to create a prioity list for building shore protection systems. An amendment requested by environmental advocates to improve public beach access, mainly in Ocean and Monmouth counties, was denied. A Ssenate bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, already has cleared committee.

* A bill to require municipalities to waive certain local building provisions to allow homeowners to raise their houses to new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood map heights. A Senate bill co-sponsored by Whelan already has cleared committee.

Contact Sarah Watson:


Follow Sarah Watson on Twitter @acpresssarah


Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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