Last week, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) issued a guidance document to New Jersey’s 565 municipalities to ensure continuity of land use procedures while New Jersey battles the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis.
While reminding Planning and Zoning Boards of Adjustment (collectively, “Boards”) of their continued obligations to comply with the State’s Open Public Meetings Act, the document provides guidance on the process for conducting virtual and telephonic public meetings, and makes recommendations regarding filing plans and application materials, providing adequate public notice, conducting hearings and facilitating public participation, and the recording of proceedings.
Notably, the guidance recommends the following:
- Boards should consider receiving plans electronically, and posting them for public review on and through the municipal website, drop-box, or some other online service that is accessible to the public.
- Boards should publicly post, and post online, a phone number and email for the Board Secretary, and members of the public should be advised that they may contact the Board Secretary to receive a hard copy of the plans and application materials by mail or via an exchange site such as a drop/pick up box by appointment at a secure, public location such as the police station or at the municipal building.
- Public notice requirements must still be satisfied. Notice should provide conference call access or web-meeting access information, and dial-in information should be provided to individuals without computer access or mobile device. Further, the notice should identify the websites on which plans are posted, contact information for the Board Secretary, and all available means of achieving public access to all documents and the meeting itself.
- It is suggested that Zoom, Facebook, YouTube or some other video-conferencing technology will provide the most appropriate forum for hearings.
- Board must facilitate public comment on applications, as well as the public’s ability to cross-examine witnesses.
- A court reporter should participate in any virtual hearing, transcribing the video session. A recording of the entire proceeding should be retained using the adopted virtual meeting technology.
While each municipality will likely handle the processing of land use applications differently throughout this crisis, the hope is that this guidance will provide some level of direction in regards to ensuring that the land use application process continues to function. The implementation of technology-enabled solutions will allow municipalities to avoid backlogs and other long term impacts associated with this unprecedented crisis.
The attorneys at Murphy Schiller & Wilkes LLP are closely monitoring municipal responses throughout the State and will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available. If you have any questions related to the DCA’s guidance or the land use application process, generally, please feel free to contact Chris J. Murphy, Esq. at (973) 723-7036 or email@example.com.
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.