S1481 - The Rice Bill Unveiled

Recently, the New Jersey Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee reported favorably on Senate Bill No. 1451 (S1451) with Committee amendments. The so-called Rice Bill, named after the State Senator primarily responsible for seeking reform, proposes to amend significantly the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. The Eminent Domain Act of 1971 and the Relocation Assistance Act of 1971 would also be amended. As a basis for reform, the legislation itself states that the Legislature received input from a number of interested citizens and interest groups over an extended period of time. 

S1451 proposes to create two tracks for municipal designation of redevelopment areas: the first as a non-condemnation redevelopment area and the second as a condemnation redevelopment area. For the latter, enhanced requirements will be built into the statute consistent with two seminal cases decided within the last few years, Harrison Redev. Agency v. DeRose, 398 N.J. Super. 361 (App. Div. 2008) and Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Borough of Paulsboro, 191 N.J. 344 (2007). Under this legislation, a municipality will be required to give notice to a property owner informing that their property is at risk of being forcibly taken for redevelopment purposes, giving them a time frame within which they can contest the redevelopment designation. Further, blight determinations must be recorded at the County Recording Office. Finally, the redevelopment designation will lapse after a period of time unless redevelopment work is ongoing.

In recognition of Gallenthin, the criteria for blight under the statute is proposed to be modified and specific factors must be found by the municipal governing body to exist in order for a blight declaration to withstand scrutiny. Moreover, no more than 20% of the land mass designated for private ownership in a redevelopment area may be comprised of non-blighted land. 

Further, changes will be made to condemnation procedures and relocation assistance. Non-blighted property cannot be condemned without a certification that all means have been exhausted to acquire the property short of condemnation. The valuation standard is modified to require that properties be valued at no less than replacement cost of the property. Also, any displaced resident and small business operator will be given a statutory right of first refusal to purchase or lease property in the redevelopment area post-development. For relocation assistance, which has not been increased since 1971, there will be a phased increase with significant bumps over the next several years.

Finally, procedural safeguards are built into S1451 that include the right to contest various governmental actions in court. Further, the Superior Court is given specific authority to suspend redevelopment activities in the event a notice under the LRHL was defective. Importantly, existing redevelopment activities are proposed to be grandfathered to the extent that they have been undertaken and there will be a four-month period of repose after S1451 is made law. 

If there are further questions about S1451, please feel free to contact Jeffrey Hall at 609-895-6755 or jhall@foxrothschild.com.

Constructing Solar Panels On Capped Landfills - Can You Turn a Negative into a Positive?

Several South Jersey communities are exploring the feasibility of solar panel projects on land formerly used as landfills. In a time of economic downturn, the notion of “turning lemons into lemonade” can take on many faces. Although the headlines have been dominated recently with health care related issues, energy issues and the “Green” movement appear to have some staying power. While constructing solar panels is believed to be a viable source of alternative energy, obtaining an approval from the state and local governments for such facilities is not without its challenges. Navigating the extensive regulatory landscape governing solar energy is a delicate balance of public and private concerns. The tightening of the credit markets over the past year has diminished the available capital for such projects; however with care and consideration a project may qualify for grants and incentives from state and federal agencies.

The Borough Council of the Borough of National Park (Gloucester County) recently passed a resolution designating a prospective redeveloper of a closed landfill on property formerly utilized for the disposal of demolition material and local household waste. The parcel is the only undeveloped tract of land in National Park Borough.   As noted by the article published in the August 23, 2009 edition of The Gloucester County Times, although the project is in its infancy stages it appears to have the support of the local community.  According to the proposal submitted by Westfield Energy, the prospective redeveloper, the former landfill could eventually house a 30-acre field of solar panels as well as over 130,000 square feet of office and retail space with an increasing focus on environmentally sustainable buildings.  

It is noteworthy that last fall, Governor Corzine unveiled New Jersey’s latest Energy Master Plan which would provide the blueprint for the state’s energy policies for the next decade. If you need a crash course or even a refresher, follow this link and continue to the bottom of the page for an article by Steven Goldenberg, Esq. of Fox Rothschild LLP which was published in the June 2009 edition of the Mercer Business Journal

 

Solar panels present an additional method of reducing a building’s carbon footprint and possibly even generating some much-needed revenue for the property owner or the local government. A similar proposal is in its informal stages in Mullica Township which is also in Gloucester County. There, township officials are pursuing a plan to lease a portion of a former garbage dump so that it can be used for a solar farm. The proposed site is located at the highest point in the township which makes it an attractive location for a solar park due to the significant amount of unimpeded access to the sun. 

 

Among the many considerations that must be given to the proposed development of a solar farm, the interplay between public and private parties and agencies is very important. Whether the developer is a private property owner versus a designated redeveloper or a redeveloper designated by a municipality to redevelop land in a blighted condition is an important factor. Another factor is the extent to which the subject property is environmentally contaminated. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has varying standards for the amount of environmental contaminants permitted to remain in the soil depending upon the type of development taking place above ground. For example, the soil quality for a residential subdivision would be more stringent than the required soil quality for a solar park. Furthermore, the cost of construction is always a consideration, and who bears the cost depends the public versus private nature of the developer. Public/private partnerships have been successful. 

 

There are a whole host of considerations that must be given, but the fact that these projects are even being considered is a plus.   Whether these solar projects ever reach construction and completion remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it presents an opportunity to make some lemonade which hopefully will be tasty, healthy, and maybe even profitable enough for all to benefit.