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Are Warehouses Helping or Hurting N.J. Towns? New Law Would Give Local Officials Money to Find Out.

New Jersey municipalities could get money to study the impact of warehouse development in their communities under a proposed law aimed at helping towns manage the growing number of proposals for massive storage facilities in their neighborhoods.

The legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, would establish a $1 million pilot program in the state Office of Planning Advocacy to reimburse municipalities for costs related to reexamining local laws related to warehouse development or conducting a warehouse study.

The bill (A5802) comes after new guidelines on warehouse development were published by the state Office of Planning Advocacy last year. The first-of-its-kind guidelines were created to help municipalities decide when to approve warehouse development while protecting New Jersey’s infrastructure and environment.

“Right now, the Office of Planning Advocacy can offer warehouse guidance to municipalities, but it does not have the associated resources to help communities reexamine relevant plans and ordinances,” Danielsen said in a statement.

“This pilot program will provide municipalities with the proper resources to adapt their land use policies to account for significant increases in warehouse development throughout the state and mitigate potential impacts on their environment and community,” said Danielsen.

The proposed law would also require the state Office of Planning Advocacy to create one or more model zoning ordinances towns could pass to guide local officials in how to handle warehouse proposals that could impact land use, traffic, infrastructure, stormwater runoff and public health.

New Jersey has been a hotspot for warehouse development for years. The state is a popular location for warehouses because it is near New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and within a 24-hour drive of nearly 40% of the nation’s population, according to Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm.

New Jersey is also home to the largest port on the East Coast and the second largest in the nation, according to the North Jersey Transportation Authority.

The growing demand for delivery and the popularity of online shopping, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled the expansion of warehouse development in New Jersey. As of April, officials with the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority reported approximately 1.1 billion square feet of warehouse space in the state.

With a limited supply of developable land in urban areas, warehouses have started spreading deeper into suburban and rural areas, raising objections from some residents and environmentalists about noise, traffic and pollution.

Fights over warehouse sprawl have sparked lawsuits, protests and contentious debate throughout the state. Hillsborough in Somerset County recently authorized taking nearly $10 million from its Open Space Trust Fund to purchase two properties that were slated for warehouse development.

Some critics say the state has not gone far enough to address warehouse sprawl and protect residents from its impacts. The new state guidance on warehouse development is not mandatory. So, towns are not required to follow it.

But, some advocates say the legislation proposed by Danielsen to fund local warehouse development studies is a move in the right direction.

“This legislation is a good first step to address warehouse sprawl,” Tom Gilbert, co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said in a statement. “Without proper planning, warehouse development will continue to result in the loss of important farmland and open spaces, and add to already poor air quality in overburdened communities.”

Warehousing and transportation groups say they want responsible development that works for companies and communities.

Members of the New Jersey Warehouse and Movers Association “will always remain sensitive to resident concerns,” said Tracy Denora, the industry group’s executive director.

Trucking groups prefer warehouses build in areas designed to withstand truck traffic, added Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association.

“All I can say from our perspective is that warehouses are our customers that we service,” said Toth, who also serves on the board of directors for the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “If given the option, our preference would be that the access to these facilities are well built safe corridors designed to handle trucks.”

It is unclear how much support the legislation to establish the $1 million pilot program for warehouse studies has in Trenton. The bill, which was introduced Nov. 20, has yet to be referred to a committee for a hearing, according to Danielsen’s office. No companion bill has been proposed in the state Senate.

The legislation would have to pass both the state Senate and Assembly and be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy to become law.

Source: NJ