Legislation now pending before the New Jersey state legislature would require cities and towns in the Garden State to take into account the potential effects of approving the construction and operation of superstore retailers on neighboring communities. Any superstore in excess of 130,000 s.f. that contains more than 25,000 stockkeeping units (SKUs) with more than 10% of the SKUs being nontaxable items (such as groceries) would be subject to the new law’s provisions. Any community that had a superstore retailer proposal would have to notify adjoining municipalities. If the latter file a “resolution of municipal concern”, then their concerns must be addressed during the superstore hearings before a joint board made up of the regional communities. Communities unhappy with a host community’s decision in a superstore retail case, could take their appeal to an “intermunicipal impact advisory board.” The bill also requires the host community to prepare a regional economic impact report, paid for by the developer, but conducted by an independent contractor, which would look at the impact of the superstore on retail sales in the trade area, the impact on the supply and demand for retail space in the region, the impact on wages and benefits and the demand for employment, a projection of the costs of public services and the public revenues generated by the superstore, the impact of the superstore on other retailers in the area, the impact on local community land use master plans, and impact on vehicle miles driven by retail customers in the area. The bill attempts to measure the land use, traffic, environmental, economic, fiscal and social equity impacts that extend beyond the boundaries of the host community. Large superstores would be categorized as “developments of intermunicipal impact.” A host community could not approve a superstore retailer without an affirmative showing that the project would not cause “substantial impairment to the intent and purpose of the master plan or zoning ordinance of the adjoining municipality,” and would not cause “substantial detriment to the general welfare of the adjoining municipality.”
Assembly bill 3504 had its first hearing before the New Jersey Assembly on November 22nd. At the time, Wal-Mart testified against the measure, saying, “This is nothing more than a veiled attempt to stifle competition. It is protecting special interests and profits at the very expense of the New Jersey customers our company seeks to serve.” But the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union) said that Wal-Mart’s “true goal is to replace all retail merchants. Their ultimate goal is they want to eradicate all competition.” This regional impact legislation is similar to legislation passed in 1971 in Vermont, called Act 250, which requires not only the convention traffic impact studies, but economic impact studies as well, and requires a regional impact be examined — not just the impact on the host community. Similar legislation has been prepared in California and other states.