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In blow to builders, permit extensions delayed in Legislature

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A key vote on one of the top priorities of builders in the state has been delayed.

The state Senate will not vote on a two-year addition to the Permit Extension Act on Thursday, despite being previously scheduled to vote on the bill. The delay was confirmed by a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

This means more uncertainty for builders, who have been seeking assurance that long-delayed projects don't have to go back to the drawing board.

"We have more work to do," said Timothy Touhey, CEO of the New Jersey Builders Association.

Touhey has been a central advocate for the measure, which would extend the expiration of government-issued permits from Dec. 31, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2014.

Environmental groups have been lobbying against the bill, saying that it would revive projects in the Highlands region that have been moribund since 2008.

The news came as a disappointment to NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate and development association and another top advocate of the bill. But CEO Michael McGuinness said the group believed the Assembly would still take action on the measure today, and that the Senate would revisit the issue in the coming months.

"It's a blip in the process, but we remain optimistic that the Senate is committed to getting this done ASAP, if not today," McGuinness said, noting that the group had assurances from Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) at a meeting last week.

Any delays in implementing the law would not only add to uncertainty for developers, but drag out efforts to finance any projects that would be affected, McGuinness said. He added that the delay comes at a time when "New Jersey is on a roll … in terms of efforts being made by the Legislature and front office."

"There's certainly a period of time that it takes to secure financing for some of these projects that would be regenerated, so it would just pause the momentum," he said. "To me that's the most negative thing here — that we're slowing the momentum down."

Touhey said the delay doesn't change the builders' position.

"We'll go back and educate them on the issues," he said of legislators.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel has described the revival of developments in the Highlands as the "Dracula clause." He said the bill would grant greater protections to toxic wetlands in Woodbridge than it would to mountains above reservoirs in the Highlands.

But Touhey rejected the environmentalists' contentions.

"It doesn't degrade any environmentally sensitive areas," he said.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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