By: Michael J. Lipari, Esq.

In an effort to provide certainty to development projects in the urban and more developed areas of the State, legislation has been adopted that extends general development plan (GDP) protection to large development projects situated on smaller sites.

Since 1987, developers have had the option under the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) to seek GDP approval for developments on sites of 100 acres or more. Now, the same protections are afforded, though the adoption of what is being called “vertical GDP,” to projects with a nonresidential floor area of 150,000 square feet or more, or with 100 residential dwelling units or more, on sites of 100 acres or less. Mixed use projects may also qualify if the project consists of a combination of square feet of nonresidential floor area and residential dwelling units, which when proportionately aggregated at a rate of 1,500 square feet of nonresidential floor area to one residential dwelling unit, are equivalent to at least 150,000 square feet of nonresidential floor area or 100 residential dwelling units. This extends the vesting provisions to the more practical regions of our State such as urban enterprise zones, areas in need of redevelopment and transit hubs.

GDP approval is based upon submission of conceptual plans to the municipal planning board prior to any application for site plan or subdivision approval. Once GDP approval is granted the developer has the right to develop the property in accordance with the GDP regardless of any subsequent changes in local ordinances or other local requirements. This right can extend for as long as 20 years.

The Legislature provided for vertical GDP approvals recognizing the costly and time consuming process to engage in urban area development projects due to challenges such as land assemblage, environmental clean up, slower absorption rates and the difficulty to obtain project financing. Additionally, since the typical application process may extend over many years, it is possible that the views of elected officials or the planning board might change. The implementation of vertical GDP legislation now offers the additional protections to smaller sited projects. In this difficult economic climate, a GDP may be the key to demonstrating stability in the local market and could assist developers with obtaining project financing.