By Joshua Burd
With a new team of legislative leaders in place, New Jersey’s booming industrial market appears to be safe, for now, from state-imposed limits on new warehouse development.
Trenton’s top four lawmakers suggested as much last week during NAIOP New Jersey’s annual Public Policy Forum, addressing an issue of increasing concern for the commercial real estate sector. Assembly and Senate leaders from both parties signaled reluctance to support legislation dictating how and where distribution centers are built, citing the logistics industry’s outsized economic impact and the importance of local decision-making.
“For the state to come down with a one-size-fits-all control on this is not as efficient or effective,” said Assemblyman John DiMaio, the chamber’s top Republican. “Every municipality knows what their needs and wants are and they have to monitor and do what’s best for them.”
So-called warehouse sprawl has become a contentious issue in New Jersey, with some towns seeking to limit truck traffic and protect vacant farmland from development. That has fueled legislation such as S3688 — introduced last year and backed by former Senate President Steve Sweeney — that would have required municipalities to seek the approval of neighboring towns when considering new warehouse and distribution center projects.
The proposal stalled in the Senate, as have other bills targeting industrial development.
“No one has reintroduced that,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who now holds the top Senate post after Sweeney lost re-election last fall, speaking during the March 23 NAIOP program.
Hartz Mountain Industries’ Gus Milano, NAIOP’s New Jersey chapter president, was quick to reply: “We don’t want it to happen again this year.”
Both Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Steve Oroho, the Senate Republican leader, also seemed unwilling to support such a bill, but stressed the need to take a thoughtful approach to building logistics centers.
“Being from Central New Jersey, obviously, warehousing is a critical element of our economy and advancing forward,” said Coughlin, a Democrat based in Woodbridge. “I think what we do need to do, though, is be mindful of where we construct them. I don’t think we need to construct warehouses on green fields. I think we should take advantage of places that already have infrastructure in place and utilize (those) facilities.”
Far less certain is the future of another long-held public policy goal for NAIOP New Jersey — updating the state’s antiquated liquor license laws. Real estate industry leaders have pushed for expanding the licensing system as a way to spur mixed-use development, help downtowns and fill retail space in a state where existing permits — capped by decades-old limits on the number of licenses that a municipality can issue — can go for six figures or more.
Yet lawmakers have struggled to build a consensus around reform amid concerns about fairly compensating existing license holders whose investment would be devalued, while acknowledging the need to expand access.
“Weighing those two concerns together is a complicated issue and that’s why it’s going to take a lot to see real movement in this area,” said Scutari, a Linden-based Democrat.
He and the other lawmakers pointed to a recent push to make permanent some of the measures that were allowed on an emergency basis during the pandemic, including home delivery of cocktails, in order to help struggling restaurants. Such steps could serve as an incremental solution on the path to a broader reform, they said.
“I do think there are many things that we can do, but the biggest hurdle we have to get over — if anybody has any good ideas — is how you get at least equitable transfer of value on the liquor license issue,” said Oroho, who is based in Sparta. “That’s the number one hurdle.”