Gov. Phil Murphy speaks in early June at a COVID-19 briefing. — Photo by Edwin Torres/Courtesy: Governor’s Office
By Joshua Burd
Real estate industry advocates are cheering the passage of a state law to extend the timeline for governmental permits and approvals for projects that were stalled by the pandemic.
The legislation, the Permit Extension Act of 2020, took effect last week after state lawmakers agreed to changes proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy, who had conditionally vetoed an earlier version of the bill. As a result, permits and approvals that would have expired on or after March 9 — the day that Murphy declared the start of the public health emergency — are effectively paused and will be extended by six months after the emergency period is deemed over.
The law applies to state, regional, county and municipal agency permit approvals. It also extends certain deadlines by which planning and zoning boards have to grant or deny applications under the Municipal Land Use Law, seeking to provide local officials with adequate time to evaluate projects in their pipelines.
Advocacy groups such as the New Jersey Builders Association praised the legislation.
“NJBA strongly supports this new law which preserves projects that have stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the organization wrote on its website last week. “The PEA of 2020 is a crucial piece of the economic puzzle needed to build a robust and healthy housing market that will help enable New Jersey to realize a full economic recovery.”
Introduced in early April, the bill sought to build on the Permit Extension Act of 2008, which provided developers with a much-needed grace period for projects that were stalled by the Great Recession. The measure originally applied to permits in existence during both the public health emergency and the state of emergency related to COVID-19, which are concurrent but separate declarations under Murphy’s executive order in early March.
For his part, the governor agreed with the need to provide relief to development projects impacted by the coronavirus crisis, citing factors such as the suspension of nonessential construction from early April through mid-May. Yet he balked at the use of the state of emergency period as the barometer for the extension, suggesting that the declaration “could remain in place for many years, even after the adverse conditions from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic have improved.”
He noted, for example, that elements of the state of emergency declared in 2012 in response to Hurricane Sandy are still in effect today. He instead proposed tying the COVID-19 permit extension to the public health emergency period.
“Extending approvals potentially years into the future is not only unnecessary, that extension may also provide an unintended avenue that could actually frustrate the intended purpose of stimulating the State’s economy,” Murphy wrote in his conditional veto message. “Additionally, an overly lengthy extension could be susceptible to manipulation to circumvent environmental standards. I am therefore recommending that the COVID-19 extension period be limited to just the public health emergency, a period of time that should be shorter in duration than the state of emergency and would more closely coincide with the State’s COVID-19 recovery.”
Both the Assembly and Senate voted June 29 to concur with Murphy’s recommendations, paving the way for the governor to sign the bill into law on July 1. Among other changes, the law also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to publish a list of impacted permits extended on its website, ensuring transparency for the public and impacted government agencies and businesses.