Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Newark Will Create Second Zoning Board to Help With Backlog

The City Council approved the creation of a supplemental zoning board of adjustment on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in hopes that the second board will help reduce the time developers have to wait for a hearing, thereby reducing costs.

A construction crane for a new building  and scaffolding around one
A construction crane for a new building and scaffolding around one being rehabilitated was evidence of development around Newark on Nov. 20, 2023.
Steve Strunsky/TNS
The Newark, N.J., City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 21, approved the creation of a “supplemental zoning board of adjustment,” an unusual move intended to alleviate a backlog of development applications built up during the city’s ongoing real estate boom.

“It’s a good thing,” Elnardo Webster, a Newark development lawyer, said of the new board’s creation. “I’m excited.”

Allison Ladd, the city’s deputy mayor for economic and housing development, said 33 applications were pending before the zoning board, with hearings scheduled through March. She said another 40 applications are awaiting scheduling. She said she hoped the new board would be established early next year.

Officials say a second board to review applications will cut the backlog and reduce the time developers have to wait for a hearing. In a business where time is money, and costs are passed on to renters and home buyers, Webster said the waiting period could last for months even as financial, weather or other conditions were ripe to break ground.

“I’m glad the mayor listened to the development community,” Webster said, referring to the administration of Mayor Ras J. Baraka.

The supplemental board was created for one year, and officials said it will not be renewed if the city erases the backlog.

“If we’re caught up at that point, this board will be dissolved,” Newark Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart told council members, who voted 8-0 to create the new board.

Like the city’s regular zoning board, the supplemental one will review and approve — or reject — developers’ requests to construct projects not typically permitted in their proposed location, a form of special permission known as a use variance. For example, a use variance would be required to build an apartment tower on a block zoned for single-family homes or a factory on land zoned for retail shops. Also like the regular board, the supplemental panel would be made up of seven members and four alternates.

Like the regular board, the supplemental one will also weigh appeals of its initial decisions by developers who feel their requests had been improperly denied. It will likewise have nine members, each nominated by one of the nine council members and subject to the full council’s approval, Ladd said.

The two boards could use the same professional staffers, though Ladd said the city would hire additional staff and lawyers to accommodate the increased caseload. She said the added cost of a second board would be offset by additional fees and other revenues resulting from the greater number of applications reviewed.

Newark has experienced a building boom in recent years as skyrocketing rents in Jersey City and other communities closer to New York have prompted apartment hunters and developers to look farther west for living space and investment opportunities. Negative perceptions of the state’s largest city have eased with the passage of time, reduced crime and the economic growth, according to scientific polling and unscientific surveys.

Beyond the ongoing boom, officials anticipate an additional boost in development applications thanks to zoning changes the council approved last month intended to stimulate the development of market-rate and affordable housing and allow a wider variety of projects in some areas.

Legislation allowing municipalities to create supplemental boards was approved in 2019, sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D- Essex), whose district includes parts of Newark. Ladd said she was unaware of any other municipality that had invoked the law but could not say whether Newark was the first.

Newark residents who spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing on the supplemental board questioned the need for one, fearing it would breed corruption and suggesting the existing board should cut its backlog by meeting more often.

“You want to create another corrupt committee?” resident Felicia Alston-Singleton told the council. “Why do you need another zoning board to do backlogs? Put another meeting on.”

But Ladd said the council had already approved an increase in zoning board meetings from two per month to one nearly every week. And, Ladd said, board members typically have full-time day jobs, with limited time and energy to spend on zoning business.

She added that scheduling more meetings for the same board would risk violating state and local laws, setting maximum total payments to board members at $4,980 a year. Newark board members are paid $166 for each regular meeting and $250 for special ones to address backlogs.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

TNS delivers daily news service and syndicated premium content to more than 2,000 media and digital information publishers.
Special Projects