Developing real estate has long been recognized as a path to fortune, or at least to profit. But development in modern times is considerably more regulated than it once was. New Jersey has a complex land use system that includes state and local government regulations. At the local level, there are multiple boards and commissions that oversee different parts of the approval process, and different types of projects. You need to know which bodies you have to deal with, the procedures for dealing with them, the contents of the filings that are required, and, if you’re application is rejected, what your options are for appealing or resubmitting a new plan. The best defense to the inherent complexity and technical details is the counsel of an experienced New Jersey real estate attorney.
Site Plans in New Jersey
The major law that affects development and use of land in the state is the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), which dictates several aspects of development but, by and large, leaves to local government the task of developing master plans, zoning variances, and the details of gaining approval for developments. Under the MLUL, site plans are divided into “major” and “minor.” Local ordinances can define which plans fall into which category (with some exceptions) but the state law specifies that:
- Major site plans require both preliminary and final approval.
- Minor site plans require only one approval.
Essentially, major site plans cost far more to produce in detail, so the preliminary approval stage allows the developer and the local government to get a feel for what the project would actually entail before the developer spends the money to produce detailed final plans.
Only major site plans need to be submitted for preliminary approval. The plans submitted for preliminary approval don’t have to be in final form, but they do need to tell the body responsible for approval enough about the project for that body to decide that the overall development plan is in line with the locality’s master plan and zoning laws. If the plan gets preliminary approval, the project is protected against zoning law changes for a specified period of time, i.e., final approval can’t be withheld because the plan no longer complies with the zoning law.
Both major and minor site plans require final approval. The plans submitted for final approval obviously need to be far more detailed than the ones that gained preliminary approval. In general, the final plans need to show the details of the land both before and after the planned development (drainage, flood plains and marshes, vegetation, etc.). They also need to show the important features of the project, such as:
- Entrances and exits
- Building locations and sizes
- Parking areas
While the statute specifies these and other items, it also has a catchall provision requiring that the body determining approval be provided any other information it might reasonably need in order to make an informed decision.
What if the Final Plans Differ from the Preliminary Plans?
In many cases, the plans submitted for final approval differ somewhat from the ones submitted for preliminary approval. The differences can be trivial, drastic, and anywhere in between. The important question is whether the differences are substantial enough that the local authority determining whether to approve the plans decides that the differences mean that the final plans represent a different project than the one they preliminarily approved. If so, the latest plans will be treated as abandonment of the original plan and a new application required.
These cases depend heavily on the specific facts: exactly what are the differences between the first and second set of plans, how those differences impact the local body’s land use plans, zoning laws, and general character of the area.
Real Estate Law Assistance in Cape May and Atlantic Counties
Site approvals and site development generally are a world unto themselves. It’s a world best travelled with an experienced guide. At the offices of Barnes Law Group, LLC, we have 20 years of New Jersey real estate experience. We provide individualized legal service focused on your needs. Give us a call today.