Under the doctrine known as Home Rule, municipalities have historically been responsible for the creation and implementation of zoning, site plan and subdivision regulations. For developers who build in many municipalities, the variety of different standards from town to town can be vexing. It was for this reason that the New Jersey Legislature adopted the New Jersey Residential Site Improvement Standards (“RSIS”). As the name implies, RSIS applies only to residential site improvements. It does not address commercial standards (although rumor has it that the Legislature is considering commercial standards) and it does not address zoning. What it does provide is a set of exhaustive engineering standards covering everything from road width requirements to parking criteria.
RSIS has created standards for four areas of concern: Streets and Parking; Water Supply; Sanitary Sewers and Stormwater Management. The standards in each category are highly specific and precise in engineering detail. The following is a synopsis of the major items covered in each category:
Streets and Parking
The rules governing streets and parking establish criteria for such things as the width of a roadway, types of curbing, size of shoulders, and sidewalk requirements. The RSIS also establishes “Residential Street Hierarchy Definitions”. The hierarchy classification will dictate the particular improvements that are required. For instance, if a street is classified as a “Major Collector”, the street would need to be designed to provide a fifty foot right-of-way, with a twenty four foot cartway width. Additionally, RSIS includes specific criteria for parking requirements, traffic signs, pavement widths and bike paths.
RSIS requires first and foremost that there be sufficient capacity to provide water service to a new residential development. The regulations provide a table showing different statistical water consumption demands. For instance, a four bedroom house is shown, on average, to have 3.93 residents and a daily demand of 395 gallons per day.
Like the water supply criteria, regulations are established setting forth the type and size of materials to be used for sanitary sewer systems. The regulations are technical in nature and best left in the hands of a civil engineer for a complete understanding.
Again, RSIS provides technical detail and requirements relating to stormwater management. This section governs how stormwater will be detained. Like the other sections of RSIS, type and size of materials is established. Capacity requirements are also set forth.
Exceptions and Waivers
It is the intent and purpose of the RSIS to reduce the multiplicity and unpredictability of standards applicable to residential development and, in turn, eliminate unnecessary costs and make the application process more efficient. The RSIS are to be interpreted as the minimum required to ensure public health and safety, and the maximum that a municipality may require in connection with residential development. However, as they say “rules were meant to be broken,” and these rules are no exception. The RSIS provide developers and municipalities with certain mechanisms to avoid the standards set forth therein.
The RSIS allow a municipal approving authority to grant a de minimis exception that is reasonable and within the general purpose and intent of the standards. A municipality or a developer may also, individually or jointly, request a waiver from a provision of the RSIS from the Site Improvement Advisory Board (the “Board”) by showing that adherence to a particular provision presents a danger to public health and safety.
A last “mechanism” for avoiding the RSIS is referred to as Special Area Standards. A municipal approving authority may develop and recommend to the Board supplementary and/or alternative standards in the form of municipal ordinances for review and amendment to the RSIS. Special Area designation may be applied by ordinance to an area exhibiting, or planning to exhibit a distinctive character or environmental feature that a municipality by ordinance has identified and expressed a desire to preserve and enhance.
James J. Delia & Linda M. Herlihy are associates at WJ&L, LLP who both practice in the Land Use and Real Estate areas.