FARMINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved the Navajo Nation's new regulations for streamlining residential and business site leasing on the reservation.

The Navajo Nation General Leasing Regulations of 2013 grant the tribe the authority to approve such leases without involvement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

It also streamlines the process for agricultural, public, religious, educational and recreational land leases.

However, leases for minerals and rights-of-way are excluded and continue to require approval by the Interior Department.

In a press release issued by the Navajo Nation Washington Office, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly called the Interior Department's approval "a great step forward."

Shelly also mentioned the difficulty in building a home or business on the reservation due to federal limitations and delays.

"Not only is there a dire need for housing, but there is also a great need for economic development in the Navajo Nation," the president said. "This act will help streamline the process, which in turn will lead to greater prosperity for the Navajo people."

Cal Nez cofounded the Navajo Chamber of Commerce, which launched in 2011.

From a business standpoint, eliminating one step of the leasing process is a positive development but the infrastructure is not in place yet, Nez said.

The Navajo Nation comprises a huge land base but it lacks a land master plan and a majority of communities do not have zoning regulations in place, he said, and both need to be established.

"The idea of giving it to the Navajo Nation is great but what will they lease away when there is no zoning," Nez said.

Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, approved the leasing regulations on May 16 and copies of the regulations and the official approval letter were sent to Shelly and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize.

The council adopted the regulations last October and it was signed into law by Shelly in November.

In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act, which allows federally recognized tribes to lease restricted lands for residential, business, public, religious, educational or recreational purposes without the approval of the Interior Department.

Under the act, tribes can also develop and implement their own regulations governing certain leasing on tribal lands.

The intent of the act is to significantly reduce the time it takes to approve leases for homes and small businesses on reservations.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.