All too often, sound environmental goals conflict with development goals and the results can be problematic for economic development, particularly here in New Jersey where red tape can wrap even the best developer into knots. Fortunately, a bill now moving through the state legislature is both environmentally smart and developer friendly and — a rarity — it still doesn't go far enough.
The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji (Hudson), Eliana Pintor-Marin (Essex) and Elizabeth Muoio (Mercer), encourages the fast tracking of environmentally friendly municipal construction projects and was released by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee last week.
The bill (A-2081) instructs the state Department of Community Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation to give priority consideration to permit applications for green building projects. A-2081 defines a "green building project" as any project designed in accordance with the green building manual prepared by DCA.
Mukherji said, in a news release, "Fast tracking green construction jobs will give a much needed boost to our state's economic engine. Ensuring that engine is fueled with environmentally friendly projects is an added bonus that will pay economic and environmental dividends for years to come."
All true and all good but not as good as it should be and as legislators representing urban and industrial areas they could be even more creative. The bill should be expanded to include contaminated sites and Brownfields for those developers who are taking the risk to bring back desolate and non-performing properties.
Think about all the building going on in Jersey City and Camden, none of it on Greenfields. Imagine if the developers building there or in Newark or Trenton were further encouraged to build greener buildings on the Brownfields and the old abandoned industrial sites we need to redevelop. What’s more, as an added policy goal to support urban redevelopment, Mukherji, Pintor-Marin and Muoio should further encourage refurbishment or deconstruction over demolition. As we’ve seen in New York City, San Francisco and Seattle not to mention several projects in New Jersey, these old buildings can and often should have a second life.
We all know about the live/work trend from the suburbs to the cities. Policies that expedite the redeployment of abandoned, polluted properties to environmentally smart, vibrant spaces should be a priority, especially in New Jersey.
The assembly members’ bill is a good step in the right direction but they would do better to make it more of a leap than just a step. The benefits would be substantial.
Chip D’Angelo is CEO of Pennington-based WCD Group, which manages and mitigates environmental and construction risks for its clients.