The New Jersey Division of Local Government Services (the “Division”) provided operational guidance this week, encouraging municipal Planning Boards and Zoning Boards of Adjustment to engage in telephonic and/or virtual public meetings in light of Governor Murphy’s Executive Orders 103 and 107 as well as additional social distancing guidelines established to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak. In doing so, the Division stressed the importance of a municipality’s obligation to continue to hold regular public meetings pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-9, while highlighting the various technological measures that a municipality could utilize to be effective while also complying with the procedural requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act and the Municipal Land Use Law.
The Division noted that the statutorily mandated time frames for Planning Boards and Zoning Boards of Adjustment to consider and either approve or deny applications have not been tolled or extended at this time. As such, the Division urged municipalities to take appropriate actions to ensure that public hearings are timely held in a procedurally sound manner. The Division has recommended that municipalities consider accepting plans electronically and posting them online in order to adhere to the requirement that plans be available for public review ten (10) days prior to a public hearing. The Division encouraged municipalities to make other information available to the public online such as the Board Secretary’s contact information so that the public can request hard copies of application materials.
The Division also provided guidance to applicants, advising that public notices must include web meeting and/or dial-in information, as applicable, in addition to the time, place and location of the public meeting at which an application will be considered. However, the Division tasked Board Sectaries with providing those who lack technological means or capability with access to public meetings. The Division also called for all exhibits to be submitted by applicants at least two days prior to public hearings so that they may be posted for public view, while encouraging those seeking to participate in public comment to provide notice in advance of each public hearing to ensure that proper technological accommodations are made available.
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