Ready to fight fast-track
By: Joseph Harvie, Staff Writer
South Brunswick Post, 04/28/2005
Opponents say smart growth law will encourage development.
Local legislators and
environmentalists said they will not back down in their fight to repeal
New Jersey's fast-track smart growth law.
The panel discussion, held April 21 at the South Brunswick High School
cafeteria, included: South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese; Assemblyman
Bill Baroni, R-14; Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, D-14; No 92 activist
Steve Masticola; New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel; and David
Pringle, the campaign director of the N.J. Environmental Federation.
The group said the law gives
developers more power when seeking permits to fill wetlands, build
chemical plants and extend sewer lines where there currently are
none. They also said the fast-track law would allow permits for long
standing projects such as Route 92 to be issued more easily, and would
lead to increased development throughout the state.
Route 92 is a proposed 6.7-mile limited access toll road that would run
from the N.J. Turnpike from Exit 8A to Route 1 at Ridge Road.
The fast-track law targets smart growth corridors along Routes 1 and
27, Interstates 195 and 295, and the N.J. Turnpike. It streamlines
certain permitting in the smart growth areas, requires the state to
decide on environmental and building permits within 45 days of
application and establishes the position of Smart Growth ombudsman.
The ombudsman would have the power to oversee the permit process.
acting Gov. Richard Cody recently named Old Bridge Township Councilman
Patrick Gillespie, former deputy director of the Senate Democrats
Office, to the position.
The law also creates a position to be filled by judge who would hear
complaints associated with permit applications. The judge, who does not
have to be a lawyer or involved in planning or zoning at any levels,
also will have the power to grant permits to developers if the
application process takes more than 45 days. The judge also can
overturn permit denials and would be appointed by the governor.
There is currently a proposal that would repeal the fast-track law,
sponsored by 44 assembly members including Mr. Baroni and Ms.
Greenstein, a Republican and Democrat whose district includes South
Brunswick. An identical bill is in the state Senate has 14 co-sponsors.
Sen. Peter Inverso, a Republican whose district includes South
Brunswick, did not sponsor the bill.
The bill has been in limbo waiting for more signatures and for the
speakers of both the assembly and the senate to place it on an agenda
The panel was also there to garner support for the Save New Jersey
Coalition, a group of over 50 activist, political and community groups
opposed to the fast-track law. Some of the members of the coalition are
the Clean Water Fund, NJ Conservation Foundation, the Rutgers
Environmental Law Clinic and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
The fast-track law, which took three days to pass both the state
Assembly and the Senate in June 2004, had a moratorium until the end of
this month. Mr. Pringle said when the moratorium is lifted the state
departments of Environmental Protection, Transportation and Community
Affairs will have until July to establish rules for issuing
environmental and building permits for projects in the smart growth
He said if the rules are not established by the end of July, the judge
would be able to issue permits for projects.
This means developers would be able to come to local government and
apply for projects and basically say they already have state approval,
Mr. Tittel said. Mr. Tittel and Mr. Pringle are hoping that the law is
repealed by July.
Mr. Tittle also said there is a problem with setting a 45-day deadline
to the permit process.
"The DEP loses everything," Mr. Tittel said. "A permit application has
45 days to be deemed complete, if it isn't complete, it is considered
Mr. Tittel said if the DEP wants to challenge permits granted after the
deadline, it would have to supply proof of why they should not be
granted, rather than having the applicant do so.
Mr. Baroni said state agencies should take their time when looking at
environmental permit applications, such as those needed to fill
"They say they want the permits to be issued faster," Mr. Baroni said.
"I want them to take their time before environmental permits are
Fast-track also has opponents of Route 92 worried.
Mr. Masticola said since the proposed
Route 92 is in a smart growth area, permits for the road could be
issued in only 45 days, making the project easier for the New Jersey
Turnpike Authority to get off the ground.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority applied in December for new permits
to build the road.
"Fast-track for Route 92 will be 'fast
wreck' for South Brunswick," Mr. Masticola said. "It puts the power to push Route 92 and
similar projects into the hands of un-elected, unaccountable,
politically appointed bureaucrats."
Mr. Masticola said a majority of
South Brunswick residents remain opposed to Route 92 and would favor
open space over easy construction.
"The citizens of New Jersey have voted
time and time again to open their wallets to preserve open space and
have voted for politicians that would stand up for open space and
against Route 92," Mr. Masticola said.
Ms. Greenstein said she hopes to see more state politicians work toward
repealing the law. She also said she would like to see debate on the
issue take place sooner rather than later.
Mr. Tittel said if citizens can have their voices heard, it could
prevent New Jersey from becoming even more crowded.
"New Jersey is so densely populated,
it is more densely populated than China, Japan and India," Mr.
Tittel said. "The only thing more
dense is the politicians that support this bill and pushed it through."
Mr. Tittel said repealing the law would allow for real smart growth
legislation to be passed.
"The bill is to smart growth what Ben
and Jerry's is to dieting," Mr. Tittel said.