Archives

now browsing by author

 

North, South or Central Jersey – What does the government say?

 

North Jersey, South Jersey or Central Jersey – are governmental regulations needed? 

I’ve previously advanced the following proposal – There are three regions in New Jersey– North, South and Central Jersey, each containing seven counties. Also discussed was what some other people are saying. For example, of the people surveyed by Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey almost half felt that Trenton Princeton and Red Bank were in South Jersey.  Twenty Five to Twenty nine percent of this same group said Flemington and Lambertville were also in South Jersey (of course 28% of the people surveyed hadn’t heard of either of these towns). Since New Jerseyans seem so unclear about the location of these boundaries, I’ll need to look for answers from an authoritative source – the government.

Now, we in New Jersey all know that the state government and sometimes the federal and local governments want to regulate almost every aspect of our daily lives. Certainly they must have created a statute or regulation that defines these regional boundaries.   As an engineer, I have the privilege of working with many departments in the state bureaucracy – Transportation, Environmental Protection and Community Affairs to name a few.

 

NJDOT South Region

NJDOT North Region

NJDOT Central Region

The NJ Department of Transportation Says:

Starting with the Department of Transportation, we find that they have divided the state into three regions, North, South or Central Jersey. They agree with me about the South Jersey Region but have given Union County to North Jersey and reserved a small portion of Warren County for Central Jersey.

 

 

 

But the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Areas Disagree:

Next we have three metropolitan transportation planning organizations – North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO), not North, South or Central Jersey as one would anticipate. These groups have a large say in how funds for transportation projects are distributed around the state. These groups seem to look at things very differently. NJTPA lays claim to 13 of the 14 counties that make up North and Central Jersey as I see it.  SJTPO includes Cumberland, Atlantic, Cape May and Salem Counties but not Burlington, whose voters also opted for secession in a 1980 referrendum.  I thought that only the most radical of South Jersey residents would strike the northerly border of their region at the south edge of Gloucester County. Even more curious is that  Mercer, Burlington Camden and Gloucester Counties are lumped together with alien counties in Pennsylvania.

North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Division of Travel and Tourism adds a new wrinkle:

NJ Division of Tourism Regions

The Department of State’s Division of Travel and Tourism has added more fuel to the fire by partitioning the state into six regions – as if the debate wasn’t heated enough already. These include the Skylands and Gateway in the north, the Delaware River and Jersey Shore Regions in the center and the Atlantic City and Southern Shore Region at the lower latitudes.

 

The Departments of Community Affairs and Environmental Protection muddy the waters further:

NJ Geologic Map

The Department of Community Affairs Division of Codes and Standards develops and enforces the NJ Uniform Construction Code. They create different regions of the state for determining how to design buildings for wind loads, snow loads and radon gas.

 

The NJDEP seems to look at things like geological and watershed zones. Both the NJDEP and NJDCA maps tend to create zone lines that run from the southwest to the northeast. This is getting a bit complicated. We better stick with Transportation and Tourism.

 

Of course transportation in New Jersey means tolls – at least in my neck of the woods.

Now what I’d really like is if  I could find a map that shows which county’s residents pay the most in tolls. I’m pretty sure that those guys in the northwestern portion of the state are making out like bandits. After all. Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset Counties have no toll roads. How sweet is that?

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

The North / South / Central Jersey Debate – What Other Guys are Saying

 

Steinfeld’s Map, Source: NJ.com

In my first post about this topic I opined that New Jersey was divided into three areas of seven counties each. While this is my initial thesis, I am prepared to perform the necessary research to validate my claim. Possibly I will need to modify it slightly based upon additional information but I’m guessing that the boundaries won’t change too much in the final analysis. Nonetheless, I’m anticipating that other people may see things differently.

 

Last year the Star Ledger reported  that a fellow named Joe Steinfeld had created a new map that accurately described the demographics of the entire state. I felt sure that he would have included the dividing lines between North South and Central Jersey on such a comprehensive document. Unfortunately, as you can see from the figure to the right, these regional dividing lines didn’t make it on the map.

 

City-Data.com Three Region Map

Next, I found out about a Monmouth University/ Gannett New Jersey poll entitled “North Versus South, Jersey Style.” Their report was based upon a telephone pole – rather survey – of 804 New Jersey adults during January of 2008. The pollsters asked the participants to offer their perception of whether ten towns that straddled the original East/West Jersey line were located in North Jersey or South Jersey. The study was complicated by several factors, including: some participants insisted on placing some of the towns in “Central Jersey” and many people didn’t have a clear idea about where the towns are situated on a map. Despite these difficulties the poll showed that people’s perceptions about the dividing lines between the three regions of the state differ largely based upon where they live. Also, it showed that the residents of South Jersey view this topic more seriously that those from North Jersey.

 

City-data.com Two Region Proposal

At City-data.com some folks have provided maps about where they believe the regional dividing lines fall. One divides the state into two regions the other into three. I kind of like the three region version – it agrees with me except that it places Ocean County in the South Jersey region and I just don’t think that’s right. What is curious is that the definition of South Jersey is the same in either scheme and it includes 50.8% of the land in the state. Could this mean that Central Jersey is just a part of North Jersey?

 

Entchev.com “Hamburger Hill” Proposal

My friend, GIS Architect, Antanas Entchev has written several blog posts about the matter as well. While we agree on many issues, I simply can’t buy into his claim that there is only North Jersey and South Jersey – no Central Jersey. If we ignore that logical flaw, his  “Hamburger Hill” dividing line doesn’t look too bad – it is only a few miles southwest of the state’s center of population.   He may, however, be correct in his assertion that using county boundaries to define the borders of North, South and (I maintain) Central Jersey may not allow the level of precision necessary to locate the lines properly. For now though let’s stick with using counties for our analysis.

 

Entchev notes that a fellow named Steve Chernoski has even made a movie about this North Jersey / South Jersey debate. It sounds like my research won’t be complete until I get my hands on New Jersey: The Movie.

 

 

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

Site Plan Drawings

While I’ve discussed the site planning process in New Jersey on my web site and in earlier blog posts, I haven’t provided any images to provide greater clarity to my readers. In this post I have provided several sheets of drawings from a site plan that I was involved with during my term as Municipal Engineer for the Borough of Princeton. The drawings included in this blog relate to the construction of two buildings and a public courtyard. The building in the foreground is five stories high with commercial space on the first floor and apartments above. The public space sits between the apartment building and the street and is bordered on its left by a new public library which was built under a separate contract.

The library, apartment building and parking garage were constructed on a site that had once housed a coal gas manufacturing facility which operated in the latter part of the 19th and earlier part of the 20th centuries. Prior to the redevelopment, it was home to a smaller library building and a 180 car surface parking lot.

I’ve provided a few of the drawings included in the full site plan set which was presented to the Princeton Regional Planning Board for review. You will note that some of the drawings have been prepared by a Registered Architect while others have been designed by a Professional Engineer and all are based upon a current property survey performed by a Licensed Professional Land Surveyor. You can find more information about these requirements in the building and zoning tab at the top of this page. Each of these documents must contain the information specified in the town’s Major Site Plan Checklist – the checklist requirements will vary from municipality to municipality.

 

 

The information that is required for a site plan today is so voluminous that different types of information are often shown on different sheets for clarity.  In these samples we find that the Site plan shows the overall layout of buildings, walkways  and landscaping. The Grading Plan focuses on the existing and proposed elevations of the surface of the project site. The Utility plan identifies the locations and in some cases elevations of the site utilities such as water supply piping, sanitary sewers,   gas services, electric feeds, communication cables, drainage piping and structures and sometimes more.

Site Plan – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

Grading Plan – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

Utility Plan – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

 

The Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Plan describes the measures that must be undertaken during construction to prohibit the migration of soil off the site by the actions of wind, water and construction vehicles.

Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Plan – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

The floor plan and building elevations provide a fairly detailed view of how the interior spaces will be used and what the exterior of the building will look like when completed. The building plans have not generally been fully designed prior to the Planning or Zoning Board approval due to the cost of developing detailed construction documents. Therefore, it’s likely that some changes will be required before the project is completed. It’s very important to review any required changes with the municipal staff. In some cases the staff may sign off on changes to your plan but on other occasions you will be required to return to the board for authorization.

Floor Plan – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

West Elevation – Princeton Redevelopment Project

 

I hope that this brief summary will shed  a bit more light on the information required to obtain Major Site Plan Approval under New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law.

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

 

 

The North, South, Central Jersey Debate – How I got interested

Perth Amboy Ferry Slip

You may wonder how a fellow from Staten Island has become so intrigued by the differences between regions of New Jersey and this long running Jersey debate. I guess it started early in my life since we could see much of Monmouth County from our dining room window. Just across Raritan Bay were Sandy Hook, Atlantic Highlands, the ammunition pier in Leonardo and water tanks in Keyport and Keansburg. My grandparents had a summer home along a lagoon in the Shore Acres section of Brick Township. Occasionally, we shopped in Perth Amboy or Menlo Park, usually getting there via the Outerbridge Crossing but occasionally taking a small ferry that ran between Perth Amboy and Tottenville on Staten Island.

Rotolactor at Walker Gordon Farms

Later I attended Rutgers College (which now goes by some other designation) in New Brunswick. Within my first month at Rutgers, I took a bus ride to Princeton to witness Rutgers beat the Tigers in the traditional football rivalry. At that time, there wasn’t much development on Route 1 between the Route 130 traffic circle in North Brunswick and the turn on Washington Road to Princeton. I did, however, see signs for Walker-Gordon Farm where my dad had occasionally taken us to see the cows getting milked on the rotolactor.

 

I spent many hours rowing up and down the Raritan River past portions of New Brunswick, Highland Park, Edison, East Brunswick, South River, Sayreville and Piscataway. As Rutgers was then an all men’s college, I had time to ponder questions such as “Why is North Brunswick south of New Brunswick?” and “How did the Delaware and Raritan Canal get from New Brunswick to Trenton?” Now I wonder “Why did the government spend millions of dollars to build a marina on the Raritan River in New Brunswick where there is very little water at low tide?”

 

Having worked through the summers with land surveyors, I developed an interest in old maps. This interest continued after my graduation from Rutgers when I took a job as Assistant Engineer for Freehold Township. As the development of this area of Monmouth County had just started to escalate, the Engineering Department consisted of the Township Engineer, William B. Dickerson and me. As low man in the organization, I was introduced to the Hall of Records to research the deeds, maps and road returns necessary to perform property surveys.

 

Surveyor General’s Office – Market St., Perth Amboy

In doing my research for a new roadway in the southern portion of  Freehold Township, I was required to trace the chain of title back for over 100 years. I found two pieces of information that intrigued me. The first was that Monmouth County originally consisted of only three municipalities -Shrewsbury, Freehold and Middletown. The second fact was that there were, even in the 1970’s, parcels of land that had never been conveyed from the original grants from the King of England. Acquisition of these parcels for the Freehold area needed to come from the Proprietors of East Jersey. That name struck a chord. I remembered a white building in Perth Amboy that said something about Surveyor General or some such thing.

 

 

I then took a job with a consulting engineering firm, Charles J. Kupper, Inc., who assigned me to construction projects in Ocean, Middlesex and Monmouth Counties spanning from Tuckerton to Edison. The first week that I worked for them    I found myself looking at a sewer installation in front of my grandparents old summer home. It made me feel connected to New Jersey.

 

There were some things that seemed odd about working in Ocean County. First, they didn’t have 7-11 convenience stores, they only had these places called  WaWas. Also, I had now crossed the line into the 609 area code.

 

Hoagie Haven, Nassau Street, Princeton

I then took a job as Municipal Engineer for Princeton Borough and the North versus South Jersey issues cropped up more frequently. The most popular place in Princeton that made sandwiches on long Italian Bread was called Hoagie Haven, not Tastee or Edison Subs as I was accustomed to. Furthermore, I couldn’t get decent reception on my favorite New York based FM radio station – this was never a problem in New Brunswick or Edison. I even heard rumors that Princeton University had been known as the northern most southern university in the United States. I new as a Rutgers graduate that I had venturied into enemy territory by taking a job just down the street from Nassau Hall, but had I strayed into a completely different culture?

 

 

 Previously – Where am I – North Jersey, South Jersey or Central Jersey? 

Next – What Other Guys are Saying

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

What if you built a marina and nobody came? or New Brunswick Landing

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Star Ledger about some new docks that have been constructed on the Raritan River in New Brunswick by Middlesex County in partnership with the City of New Brunswick. Apparently they spent $7 million of tax money obtained through Green Acres grants. to construct 12 slips capable of accommodating boats of up to 45′ in length.

You can see the whole story at:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/06/new_floating_dock_makes_a_spla.html

Raritan River Looking Upstream from New Brunswick Landing

 

Having spent many hours on the Raritan River between Piscataway and Sayreville during my rowing days at Rutgers, my first thought was “There’s no water there at low tide.” My second thought was that it seems like an awfully long and winding trip from the mouth of the Raritan River to New Brunswick (but I’m generally in vessels powered either by sails or oars so maybe power boaters would view the situation differently).

 

I was in New Brunswick last Thursday for a business meeting and saw a variable message board on Route 18 announcing that the docks at Boyd Park were open for use – I had to check it out. What I found were some very attractive floating boat slips located just downstream of the Albany Street Bridge. I noticed that there was an additional channel marker near the docks. Previously, the channel had ended a few hundred yards downstream near the entrance to the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

 

Docks at New Brunswick Landing

On the date of my visit the tide was not quite low. The river bed was exposed at places upstream of the dock so it appears that it would be unwise to venture beyond the limits of New Brunswick Landing. There were no boats in the slips last Thursday afternoon but there was a county employee on site to perform maintenance and to register guests to the  facility. He advised me that there were originally more berths at the site but some were damaged during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.  He said that there was no charge for docking privileges and that boats were permitted to stay overnight but that the gates to the dock would be locked after hours.

 

I left feeling that the facility was very attractive and appeared well engineered but still wondering “Who is going to use this dock” and “Was this a wise use of $7 million of public funds?” In my mind if the facility is well used then the investment in the New Brunswick waterfront is a good one. What I’d like to know is if you boaters out there plan to take the trip to New Brunswick and tie up at New Brunswick Landing.

 

[poll id=”5″]

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

Where am I – North Jersey, South Jersey, or Possibly even Central Jersey?

What line divides North Jersey and South Jersey – Does Central Jersey even exist?

A few weeks ago my daughter, Sara Peters, was helping me to develop ideas for a presentation to the fall meeting of the New Jersey Society of Municipal Engineers. While brainstorming about potential topics she posed the question “Where do you think that most of the attendees will come from? – North Jersey,  South Jersey,  or Central Jersey?” This renewed a debate that has been brewing in our family for a number of years – “Where is the dividing line between North and South Jersey and does Central Jersey even exist.”

 

For us, the discussion began in earnest when Sara started to date her husband-to-be, Peter Aguero. Sara and Pete met while attending Rutgers University – the New Brunswick campuses. Sara, who was born and raised in Edison, knew full well that New Brunswick was situated in the heart of Central Jersey. Pete, who hails from Delanco – a town situated along the Delaware River in western Burlington County- was equally sure that New Brunswick was in North Jersey. While I’m not a New Jersey native (In fact I currently live in Staten Island, NY – separated from NJ by a narrow band of water but connected with three bridges that demand payment of a $12 toll.), I attended Rutgers University and have worked for most of my career as a Professional Engineer and Land Surveyor in Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and northern Ocean Counties – land that I consider to be in Central Jersey.

 

Now, being of an engineering mindset, I thought that the first approach at defining North, South and Central Jersey would be to group the 21 counties into three groups of seven (obviously if there were only North and South Jersey we would need to have an even number of counties). My grouping is as follows:

North Jersey:     Sussex, Passaic, Bergen, Warren, Morris, Essex and Hudson;

Central Jersey:  Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer and Ocean;

South Jersey:     Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem and Cape May;

 

Admittedly, it was a difficult choice to determine into which groups Ocean County and Burlington County should be placed. I chose to place Ocean County in the Central Jersey group as it was part of the colonial grant for East Jersey (I’ll discuss the history of East and West Jersey in a future post). as were the majority of the other counties in the Central Jersey group. Burlington was the home of the proprietors of West Jersey, an area that contained all of the other counties I had arranged in the South Jersey Group.

 

While my groupings looked pretty neat, I thought that it might be wise to look at some official statistics. After all, the map seemed to show that more than 1/3 of the land area was in the group that I had labeled as South Jersey and more than 1/3 of the population resided in at least the eastern portion of North Jersey. A review of the 2010 Census data revealed the following facts.

 

Region

Area

Population

Annual Income

Sq. Mi.

%

#

Density

(persons/ sq. mi)

%

$/yr (millions)

Per Capita ($/yr)

%

North

1940

25.2

3,574,810

1843

40.7

99,646

27,875

42.0

Central

2,763

35.9

3,371,610

1,220

38.3

95,430

28,304

40.3

South

2,995

38.9

1,845,474

616

21.0

42,080

22,801

17.7

Total

7,698

100.0

8,791,894

1,142

100.0

237,156

26,974

100.0

 

 

 

In my preliminary research I ran across the Center of Population Project , which has calculated that in the year 2000, New Jersey’s population was centered in Milltown, just slightly east of the New Jersey Turnpike, between exits 8A and 9.  This point is pretty near the center of my definition of Central Jersey  – my proposition is looking pretty good about now.

 

 

Geographic Center of New Jersey

Further research revealed that the geographic center of the state was located 5 miles southeast of Trenton at 74°33.5’W 40°4.2’N, which lies in Plumstead Township, Ocean County, south of Route I -195, east of the NJ Turnpike and north of McGuire Air Force Base. Now that point is just about on the border between Burlington and Ocean Counties, That means the geographic center is on the line between Central Jersey and South Jersey – that can’t be right.

 

 

It seems that getting these definitions of North Jersey, South Jersey and possibly Central Jersey accurate is going to be harder than I thought. It appears that I need to dig into this matter further. It’s been bugging me since Pete brainwashed Sara into becoming a Philadelphia Phillies fan when she grew up rooting for the New York Mets.

 

Please share your thoughts on this thorny issue with me – by answering these two poll questions and posting comments.

[poll id=”3″] [poll id=”4″]

 

Next – The Jersey Debate – How I got Interested

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

 

 

What is a Site Plan?

Many people arrive at my web site by searching for the answer to the question “What is a Site Plan”? Here is a somewhat simplified answer to that question for projects situated in the State of New Jersey, although I suspect much of this explanation will be true for other states.

A site plan is a plan to develop one or more lots, usually to construct a building or structure of some sort along with the other improvements to the property that support the new building. These improvements may include:
Utility services – gas, electric, water, sewer, telephone, cable, etc.
Driveways and parking lots;
Walkways and means of ingress and egress;
Drainage systems;
Signs;
Lighting;
Landscaping, and more.

In New Jersey, the term site plan is not usually associated with the development of individual one and two family dwellings on existing lots as these projects do not require Planning Board approval. Otherwise the term is accurate for those types of project, as well.

The plan must start out with a detailed survey of the property, performed by a Professional Land Surveyor, who will locate the existing features on the property and depict them on a survey plat. The information required to be shown on the existing conditions survey is generally contained in the check list requirements enumerated in the municipality’s land use ordinance. In addition, the Professional Land Surveyor must prepare the survey in accordance with the laws and regulations that govern the preparation of land surveys in New Jersey.

The applicant’s Architect and Professional Engineer then design the layout of the buildings and other improvements on the site while working within the constraints set forth in the local Zoning Ordinance, such as, allowable building size, minimum setbacks from the property lines for the building and site improvements, required number of parking spaces and more.

A set of Site Plan drawings normally includes some sheets that are “bird’s eye” views of the property, showing both the existing conditions as well as the proposed improvements. Often, due to the large amount of information required on these drawings, individual sheets are provided for specific subject matters, e.g. Grading Plan, Lighting Plan, Landscaping Plan, Utility Plan. The applicant may also be required to show floor plans of the building as well as building elevations and building renderings so that the reviewing board can visualize what the completed project will look like. Similarly, details of the site improvements are generally included. Full building details, structural, electrical and plumbing plans are not usually requested.

It is always important to have an experienced team of professionals to assist you in preparing a site plan for your building project. If you would like more information about the development process in the State of New Jersey please visit my web site www.carlepeters.com or email me at cpeters@carlepeters.com.

Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems may be required in New Jersey

A bill has been introduced in the New Jersey Assembly that would require the installation of residential sprinkler systems in all new one and two family homes – except manufactured homes, homes that are part of a development plan or homes that are not connected to a public water supply system. Although its caption states that the requirement is for new single and two family dwellings, it appears that bill A1570 will also require that a sprinkler system be installed when there is a change of occupancy.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) is planning to oppose this legislation; although it is generally supported by code enforcement professionals. The opposition is based upon the premise that government imposition of additional costs on residential property owners or potential property owners is bad. The supporters claim that the systems will save lives and protect property and lower insurance premiums. While none of us should argue about safer housing, the question that remains is “How much safety can we afford?”

It stands to reason that the most cost effective design and installation of a residential sprinkler system may be achieved when the home is being constructed. The water service can be sized properly and the pipes can be placed in the wall cavity before it is closed up. The costs to retrofit a sprinkler system in an existing home are much more variable. For example, Will the water service need to be upgraded? How much will the building be disturbed to place the pipes in the walls and repair the finishes? How much more labor will it take to perform the installation in confined spaces?

A report entitled Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment, prepared in 2008 by the Fire Protection Research Foundation cites an average cost of $1.61 per square foot to install a residential fire sprinkler system in a new home on a public water service. The cost for installation of a system in the test home on a well was more than twice the price. In 1990, the Phase II Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Demonstration Project, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Fire Administration, developed an average cost of $3.17 per square foot to install a residential fire sprinkler system in an existing single family home. With this very rough comparison, it appears that the cost of installing a residential sprinkler system in an existing one or two family dwelling is roughly twice the cost of putting it in a new home.

Bill 1570 exempts residences that rely on a well for their potable water supply, from the requirement to install sprinkler systems in one and two family homes. It seems unlikely that these homes are inherently safer – after all, won’t the fire department need to bring the water with them if such a home catches fire? It must be that the increased cost of this type of system is simply too much for the government to impose on the property owner.

Why then does the bill require installation of sprinkler systems in existing homes, when they are sold, or simply when the occupants change? The cost of doing so is similar to that of installing a sprinkler in a home with a well.

Why are homes that are part of a development plan exempted from the requirement? It’s understandable to exempt homes for which applications for building permits have been issued. Why exempt those that are still in the design process?

The bill requires that a separate water meter be provided to measure water usage for fire protection. This will result in a separate charge to the homeowner for the additional meter. A quick check of one New Jersey water provider showed a service charge of $25 per month for a one inch meter, even if no water flowed through it. Of course, the hope is that no water will ever need to flow through it. This fee alone is likely to offset any reduction in home insurance premiums.

It is hard to put a price tag on the increased safety afforded to the occupants of homes with residential sprinkler systems. At this time, however, it’s hard enough for people to sell their homes without losing money. I believe requiring the installation of a sprinkler system in an existing home is too much to ask.

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

Home Improvement Contract Disputes – Payment of Legal Fees

Home Improvement Contracts – Proposal to Eliminate Award of Attorney’s Fees for Technical Violations of the Act and Regulations

New Jersey Senate Bill S1769, sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner, proposes to eliminate the award of attorneys’ fees, filing fees and costs of suit for committing technical violations of the Consumer Fraud Act. It seems to me that this is an excellent idea. It would retain the awarding of treble damages and attorney’s fees where a consumer can show actual damages from the actions, or inactions of a home improvement contractor yet may reduce protracted litigation by consumers with little damage but no exposure to the expense of a lawsuit.

Currently, the Consumer Fraud Act and the Home Improvement Practices Act apply to any home improvement contractor performing almost any type of repair, alteration or addition to a residential building or property. The Consumer Fraud Act was established to protect consumers from fraud, misrepresentations and other acts of bad faith. As a way to punish reprehensible behavior, the law provides for the awarding of treble damages, attorneys fees and court costs to plaintiffs that show a contractor has violated the letter of the law, or the regulations, in preparing and performing a home improvement contract. The plaintiff is not required to show that the violation of the law caused him to be damaged.

The Contractors Registration Act, NJSA 56:8-136 et seq., requires all home improvement contractors to be registered with the State of New Jersey, Department of Consumer Affairs. Exclusions to this requirement are provided for some persons already licensed by the State such as: architects, engineers, surveyors, plumbers and electricians. Home improvement retailers with a net worth of $50 million, or more are also exempted from the registration requirement as are the builders of new homes who are registered under the New Home Warranty and Builders’ Registration Act.

The law requires that contractors must maintain general liability insurance in a minimum amount of $500,000 per occurrence and that the work may not begin until all required permits have been issued. The contractor must not accept final payment prior to obtaining certificates of approval or occupancy.

All home improvement contracts in excess of $500 must be in writing and written in plain, understandable language (and yes contractors, they must be legible). The customer may cancel the contract, by midnight of the third business day after receiving a copy of the copy, by notifying the contractor by certified mail or personal delivery.

The contracts and all changes to the contract terms and conditions must be signed by both parties, and must contain the following information:

Name and address of the contractor
Contractor’s Registration Number
A detailed description of the work
Total price to be paid, including payment terms and conditions
Starting and completion dates
Printed disclosure language per NJSA 56:8-151
Certificate of Insurance

Right now a home improvement contractor who failed to include one of these items on the contract, or made a change in the work – even one requested by the customer – without a written change order, could be required to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, even if the work was performed properly. This just doesn’t seem equitable to me.

I think that Sen. Turner’s proposal would be improved by defining the term “technical violation”. For example, which of these infractions could be considered technical violations?

Starting work before receiving a building permit;
Forgetting to put the Contractor’s Registration Number on the Contract
Failing to provide a certificate of insurance
Completing the project one week late

While the current bill still leaves some questions unanswered, I believe that if enacted into law it will serve to eliminate some frivolous lawsuits while adequately protecting the consumer. Bad contractors may have their licenses revoked and guilty contractors will still be subjected to treble damages. If the damages are high, it’s unlikely that they were caused by a technical violation of the rules. That’s when fee shifting seems warranted.

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC

NJ Municipal Land Use Jurisdiction Table

I recently taught a class about NJ Municipal Land Use Law and the NJ Residential Site Plan Standards to a group of Professional Land Surveyors. There were some questions about how to know which group has the authority to make decisions about land use matters in the State of NJ. I have attempted to provide a quick reference of these jurisdictional issues in the attached table.

JURISDICTION TABLE

 

The author, Carl E. Peters is one of fewer than 10 people licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor, Professional Planner, Construction Official, Building Subcode Official and Plumbing Subcode Official. He is also a Certified Municipal Engineer and Mediator and founder of Carl E. Peters, LLC