Roosevelt J. Donat, Esq. is a Land Use and Zoning attorney at Murphy Schiller & Wilkes LLP (MSW), a boutique law firm specializing in commercial real estate and development. A member of the firm’s statewide Land Use, Zoning and Redevelopment practice group, Roosevelt handles land use applications throughout New Jersey, with a particular focus on projects located in the City of Newark, and greater Essex County. Recent changes to the City of Newark’s Zoning Ordinance have kept Roosevelt incredibly busy, as he has been helping clients understand how these changes will impact development throughout the City in the years to come. Roosevelt recently took some time to sit down to discuss his practice.
QUESTION: Tell us about your Land Use and Zoning practice. What do you find most interesting about the practice area?
ANSWER: What I find most interesting about the Land Use and Zoning practice is that the practice is a multidisciplinary crossroad. What I mean by that is any given project might involve architectural, engineering, planning and/or political elements that must be reconciled to achieve a successful outcome. An adept Land Use and Zoning attorney must be knowledgeable in those subject matters to effectively lawyer matters before them. Almost every project teaches me something new. The Land Use and Zoning practice variety keeps me engaged and ready to tackle new projects. Most importantly, as a Land Use and Zoning attorney, I assist with the important work of community building.
QUESTION: Which municipalities in New Jersey are you most active? Where do you see opportunities for your clients?
ANSWER: Although MSW’s Land Use practice group is a statewide practice group, and I have prosecuted land use matters throughout various New Jersey municipalities, my practice has a strong presence in the City of Newark, and greater Essex County. I see a tremendous amount of opportunity in the City of Newark, and greater Essex County, due to proximity of the transit-oriented assets to development opportunities, coupled with a growing desire of residents to live, work, stay, and play in their neighborhood. The changing workforce is uninterested in long commutes. Being able to quickly get to work and move around the neighborhood while having access to community assets like restaurants, grocery stores and performing arts venues is a very appealing combination in the new live and work environment in urban centers.
QUESTION: The City of Newark recently amended its Zoning Ordinance. It appears that the changes will help drive development throughout the City. What are your thoughts?
ANSWER: Since taking office, Mayor Ras Baraka has consistently emphasized that the City of Newark has a housing shortage. The amended Zoning Ordinance is a great step in the right direction to help address Newark’s housing shortage because it allows for greater development density. Real estate developers have a real opportunity to reposition destressed assets, adaptively reuse performing assets and creatively build from the ground-up to assist in closing Newark’s housing shortage gap. Overall, I think the amended Zoning Ordinance is a positive for Newark and will assist in creating affordable housing options and spurring economic activity for New Jersey’s largest city.
QUESTION: For most people involved in the commercial real estate industry, 2023 was a challenging year. High interest rates and uncertainty negatively impacted the flow of transactions. Were your clients active in 2023?
ANSWER: In what was an incredibly challenging Commercial Real Estate market in 2023, thankfully, my clients thrived. In 2023, our Land Use team secured major development approvals throughout New Jersey across all real estate asset classes. We are looking to continue to ride 2023’s momentum with a positive outlook, especially with the possibility that interest rates will decrease and development activity will increase in 2024.
QUESTION: Any last thoughts as we start 2024?
ANSWER: I am optimistic for 2024! With the Federal Reserve signaling possible interest rate reductions in 2024, we should see greater real estate transactions and development activity. I am looking forward to working on some new and exciting projects in 2024.
Murphy Schiller & Wilkes LLP is a boutique law firm specializing in commercial real estate and development matters. Headquartered in Newark, NJ, the firm was founded to provide effective, efficient, and creative legal services to meet the distinctive needs of our clients. Through the development of comprehensive legal strategies, our team works tirelessly to create a blueprint for success and advance our clients’ interests in every matter.