The COVID-19 crisis is forcing land use boards to grapple with the requirements of holding public meetings at which the public cannot be physically present. The administration of land use board meetings is governed by the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 107 and the reality of social distancing makes compliance with the MLUL challenging. The New Jersey Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) has issued two guidance documents that describe how towns can hold online or telephonic meetings that allow local government to continue operations. While some land use boards will proceed down this route, the myriad of legal issues involved with virtual hearings should give developers pause.
Open Public Meetings Act
As set forth in the DLGS memorandum, public bodies, including land use boards, can abide by the requirements of OPMA when holding telephonic or internet based meetings as long as they provide adequate public notice, the meetings are open to the public, and there is an opportunity for public comment. N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. While there will be difficulties in managing a meeting held via telephone or online, if done correctly, on the whole, these types of meetings should be able to comply with OPMA.
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