New Jersey is planning for growth—with a new version of the New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan. “In New Jersey we have our mojo back,” said Ted Zangari, chair of the redevelopment law practice at Sills Cummis & Gross. He led “Where do we Grow from Here?” a panel at the Annual New Jersey Real Estate Conference, hosted by National Real Estate Investor in Jersey City, N.J., June 18.

The new State Plan relies on incentives instead of restrictions. It supports sustainable development near existing infrastructure by focusing funding on these policy goals, including federal transportation dollars and state money to redevelop brownfields. That’s a big change from the old state plan, which critics say ruled much of the state off-limits to development, leaving just “800 developable acres,” said Zangari.

“We want to identify hubs to draw in activity, not lines to box in business,” said Dan Kennedy, Deputy Director, Office for Planning Advocacy at the N.J. Dept. of State. Once known as New Jersey’s Office of Smart Growth, the Office of Planning Advocacy used to produce the notorious Policy Map of the New Jersey State Development and Redevelopment Plan.

The big red map

If approved, the new State Strategic Plan would phase out the old map. “The new plan is not a big red map. Developers will still be able to build where they like to,” said Zangari. The idea is to encourage developers to like concentrated development around the state transit hubs, instead of sprawling development that eats up more of the state shrinking agricultural area. Environmentalists worry incentives alone won’t be enough to keep developers from paving over more of New Jersey’s farmland. However, the real estate market is increasing putting higher value on development near transit.

The planners have also created a “Red Tape Commission” to identify and trim needless bureaucracy and get state agencies and state and local officials to work together smoothly. The state has already held a long series of public meetings on the draft revision of the plan this spring—though the final vote on whether to adopt the plan keeps getting pushed back.

The last version of the plan was re-adopted in 2001, which puts New Jersey several years past its statutory deadline. Under the State Planning Act, the State Plan must be prepared and adopted by the State Planning Commission, consisting of 17 members representing State government, local government and the public.

New opportunities for development

“You only have to look around train stations to find old under-utilized sites,” said Stephen A. Santola, Counsel for Woodmont Properties. In 2010, Woodmont opened the Highlands at Morristown, the state’s first “transit village” project, including new apartments, condominiums and retail space across from the Morristown train station. He hopes that the new plan will help more sites like this be redeveloped. “All we want is pre-development support and some measure of speed [regarding approvals],” he said.

Other opportunities include “freight villages,” which cluster industrial development around strong rail infrastructure. “There may be industrial properties that are missing that vital piece to make it happen, whether road or rail,” said Anne Strauss-Weider, principal and founder of A. Strauss-Weider Inc.

Officials hope that to help facilitate new projects like these. “We are going to try to find those sweet spots,” said Kennedy. “We are trying to keep the decisions local, getting out of the way.”