Rewriting the plans: Bill would let developers rezone mid-project

Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2011

By JOEL LANDAU, Staff Writer Press of Atlantic City

A state bill could offer relief for developers who cannot finish proposed projects due to the economy.

Michele Wheaton, broker for the Riverfront Condominium complex, said removal of its restriction to seniors has opened the market for it. Ben Fogletto

But the bill has drawn criticism from residents and municipal officials who fear it undermines their planning-and-zoning process.

Under the bill S-2950/A4128, introduced in June, developers would be able to seek a modification to their previously approved housing projects from municipal planning and zoning boards. Under the bill, the developer must demonstrate the project would not work under the current economic conditions.

Specifically, the developer must show one of the following:

• The current zoning or existing approval does not provide the property with an economically viable use.

• No feasible market exists for development of the property based upon the property’s current zoning or existing approval.

• Financing for the development of the property under current zoning or the existing approval is not readily available.

This would affect properties whose original application was submitted prior to Jan. 1, 2006, or the property must be owned by a lender who took ownership through foreclosure.

The bill would require the municipality to grant the change if the developer meets the criteria, and the application can be granted “without substantial detriment to the public good, to the extent it is not incompatible with the use of adjoining properties,” the bill states.

State Sen. Jeff van Drew, D-Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, said the bill is intended to foster communication between towns, developers and banks to get the properties sold and have residents pay property taxes.

Van Drew said he does not expect the bill to move forward anytime soon and also expects amendments to be made.

“It is a problem,” he said. “We need to get these properties on the tax rolls but do it in a way that’s fair as well.”

But the bill has drawn concern from municipal officials, who fear the bill would undermine the local planning and zoning process.

Michael Cerra, senior legislative analyst for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said the original approvals presumably had been madE on sound decisions by the planning and zoning boards.

“Whether there may have been a bad business decision five or six years ago does not mean the taxpayers should pay for it over the long term,” he said. “It’s a short-term solution that could create a long-term headache.”

Anthony Cappuccio, president of Boardwalk Design & Development Inc. in Margate, said he favors the bill and is keeping apprised of its process.

“The state we’re in right now, I don’t think it could hurt,” he said. “It does take away a bit of home rule but it could also put a lot of people back to work on projects that have not been finished.”

Cappuccio is already taking advantage of a similar law passed by the state last year that allows developers to remove the 55 and older restriction on approved senior homes. Cappuccio bought the Absecon Gardens development in Absecon last year and got the senior restriction removed in May.

The company wants to market the 76-unit property to young professionals, empty-nesters and those looking for a second home. But the change has brought a lawsuit from residents who want to keep the complex as is.

Other changes have been more warmly received. The Riverfront Condominium complex along the Maurice River in Millville was developed by Haffelfinger & Standeven Construction Co. and they also got the senior restriction removed last year.

Michele Wheaton, broker for the property, said the change has opened up the market, though they have yet to sell any properties as the developer continues to finalize its financing.

But Wheaton said interest is up even though the people contacting her are still predominantly senior citizens.

“When you open the market up, it brings up the value a whole lot more,” she said. “But it still has to fit with plans. The condos are two bedrooms, two baths. Not many families are going to want to live there.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *