Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In 2010, the Township of Franklin (the Township) adopted an ordinance revising its regulation of signs, including billboards. The ordinance permits billboards, subject to multiple conditions, in a zoning district proximate to an interstate highway but expressly prohibited digital billboards anywhere in the municipality. A company seeking to install a digital billboard challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. The Law Division declared unconstitutional that portion of the ordinance barring digital billboards. The trial court viewed the Township's treatment of such devices as a total ban on a mode of communication. In a reported opinion, the Appellate Division reversed. Applying the "Central Hudson" commercial speech standard and the "Clark/Ward" time, place, and manner standard to content-neutral regulations affecting speech, the appellate panel determined that the ban on digital billboards passed constitutional muster. The Supreme Court disagreed: "simply invoking aesthetics and public safety to ban a type of sign, without more, does not carry the day." The Court declared the 2010 ban on digital billboards as unconstitutional and reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "E&J Equities v. Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the standard governing revocation of direct access from a state highway to property used for commercial purposes pursuant to the State Highway Access Management Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 27:7-89 to -98, and the State Highway Access Management Code (Access Code), N.J.A.C. 16:47-3.5(e)(11) and -3.8(k)(2). Arielle Realty, L.L.C. was the owner of a three-tenant commercial property located on the northbound side of Route 166 in Toms River. The DOT informed Arielle that access to its property from Route 166 would be eliminated because the DOT intended to construct an additional northbound travel lane. The DOT also advised Arielle that it intended to construct a median to separate northbound and southbound traffic on Route 166. This design would eliminate the eight parking spaces in the front of the building. The plan would also prevent direct access to Arielle s property for motorists traveling south on Route 166 because a motorist would no longer be able to make a left-hand turn onto West Gateway. According to the DOT design plan, a southbound motorist on Route 166, who intends to access Arielle s property, would be required to drive past the property, turn right onto a local road, turn right onto another local road, turn left onto Route 166 at an intersection controlled by a traffic signal, and turn right onto West Gateway. This alternative route traversed approximately three-quarters of a mile. In affirming the DOT Commissioner's decision, the Appellate Division determined that the DOT met its burden of proof that the alternative access plan was not only reasonable but also provided a convenient, direct, and well-marked means to enter the business and to return to the state road. Accordingly, the Appellate Division determined that the property owner failed to overcome the presumption of validity accorded to the DOT design. The Supreme Court affirmed: "the Commissioner's analysis is ultimately aimed at selecting the plan that will best achieve the overarching goal of providing reasonable access to the state's system of highways rather than maximizing the business interests of a particular property owner." View "In re Revocation of the Access of Block #613" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Richard Grabowsky filed a complaint against the Township of Montclair, challenging the validity of an ordinance adopted by the Township to permit the construction of an assisted living facility on a site located next to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church of Montclair. Plaintiff asserted that a statement made by Township Mayor Jerry Fried, a member of the Township Council and Planning Board, demonstrated that Fried had a direct personal interest in the development and that he should have been disqualified from voting on the zoning issue. He also alleged that Fried and a second member of the Council, Nick Lewis, shared a disqualifying indirect personal interest in the development project because of their membership in the Unitarian Church. The Township, its Planning Board and the developers seeking the opportunity to build the assisted living facility denied the existence of any conflict. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction barring the Township and Planning Board from considering or approving development applications for the assisted living facility. Although no party filed a motion for any form of dispositive relief, the trial court sua sponte granted summary disposition, and dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. An appellate panel concluded that the trial court's summary judgment was procedurally improper, but concurred with the court's determination that the two Township officials had no conflict of interest, and affirmed the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff s claims. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment, but did not concur with the panel's conclusion that, on the limited record developed in the trial court, plaintiff's claim was properly dismissed because the Unitarian Church was neither an applicant nor an objector in the redevelopment application at issue. The Court held that when a church or other organization owned property within 200 feet of a site that is the subject of a zoning application, public officials who currently serve in substantive leadership positions in the organization, or who will imminently assume such positions, are disqualified from voting on the application. View "Grabowsky v. Township of Montclair" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs owned five lots in the City of Hackensack on which stood two dilapidated buildings abutted by two poorly maintained and decrepit parking lots. Hackensack designated eleven out of twenty lots in a two-block area as in need of redevelopment, including plaintiffs' five lots. In doing so, the Planning Board made specific findings that those lots met the statutory definitions of blight in N.J.S.A.40A:12A-5(a), (b), and (d). The Hackensack Mayor and Council passed a resolution that adopted the Planning Board s findings. Plaintiffs filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs challenging Hackensack's classification of their lots as blighted, arguing that a finding of blight did not meet the constitutional definition of blight enunciated in "Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Borough of Paulsboro," (191 N.J. 344 (2007)). On that basis, plaintiffs sought to strike down the Mayor and Council's resolution classifying plaintiffs properties as part of an area in need of redevelopment. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that "Gallenthin" established a heightened constitutional standard for blight applicable to every subsection of the Redevelopment Law. After its review, the Supreme Court held that the Appellate Division over-read the scope of Gallenthin, which only addressed a specific constitutional defect in subsection (e) of N.J.S.A.40A:12A-5. Applying the required deferential standard of review to the municipal decision-making in this case, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that substantial evidence supported Hackensack's designation of plaintiffs properties as in need of redevelopment. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Appellate Division. View "62-64 Main Street, L.L.C. v. Mayor & Council of the City of Hackensack" on Justia Law

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In the late 1990s, the Township of Ocean began a comprehensive planning process in anticipation of population growth and increased development. In April 2007, plaintiffs, who owned a significant amount of land in the Township, filed a complaint against the Township, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) challenging the validity of three ordinances affecting their property. They alleged that they were arbitrary, unreasonable, capricious, and illegal and that the rezoning constituted inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs lived in a single-family residence on the eastern portion of one of several lots they owned; the remainder of the property consisted of undeveloped woodlands. When plaintiffs acquired the property, it was subject to mixed zoning. As a result of the Planning Commission s endorsement of the Township s Petition, all but one of plaintiffs lots were converted to PA-5 Environmentally Sensitive Planning Areas. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the circumstances under which municipal zoning ordinances represent a legitimate exercise of a municipality s power to zone property consistent with its Master Plan and Land Use Law (MLUL) goals. Upon review, the Court concluded that the ordinances represented a legitimate exercise of the municipality's power to zone property consistent with its MLUL goals, and held that plaintiffs did not overcome the ordinances presumption of validity. The inclusion of plaintiffs property in the EC district rationally related to the municipality's comprehensive smart growth development plan, which concentrated development in a town center surrounded by a green-zone buffer. The Court declined to invalidate ordinances that fulfill MLUL goals and other legitimate land-use planning objectives through plaintiffs as-applied challenge. "Rather, we reassert the importance of exhausting administrative remedies and conclude that plaintiffs claim for redress for the downzoning of their property is better addressed through their inverse condemnation claim, which, as the trial court held, plaintiffs may pursue if they are denied a variance." View "Griepenburg v. Township of Ocean" on Justia Law

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Malik & Son, LLC owned property in the Borough of Merchantville. The Property contained a fifty-four unit apartment building and had been designated by the Borough as an area in need of redevelopment. Malik assumed a mortgage loan issued by LB-RPR REO Holdings, LLC’s (LB) predecessor, and defaulted on the loan. LB’s predecessor in interest filed a complaint to foreclose the mortgage, and Malik did not file an answer. In early 2011, the court entered a final judgment of foreclosure. LB’s predecessor in interest transferred all its rights and interest in the Property to LB the next day. Once it acquired the loan, LB had a receiver appointed for the Property and made substantial repairs to the building. In an effort to protect its interest in the Property, LB sought, and the court entered, an order that directed that Malik could not sell the Property without the express approval of the sale price by LB. Throughout 2010 and 2011, the Borough pursued a plan to redevelop the Property. The Borough designated Citadel Wellwood, LLC (Citadel) as the redeveloper of the Property, and adopted the redevelopment and rehabilitation plan for the Property. Months before Citadel was designated as the redeveloper of the Property, Citadel entered a contract to purchase it for $1,250,000. Richard DePetro, the principal of Citadel, cancelled the contract after seeking a $200,000 reduction in the purchase price due to the deteriorated condition of the building. Malik rejected the offer, citing the amount due on the LB mortgage. Prior to cancelling the contract, Citadel contacted LB and offered to purchase the Property for $1,250,000 if LB agreed to a short sale to permit satisfaction of other liens. In the course of those discussions, DePetro mentioned to LB’s representative that the Borough would probably condemn the Property. In June 2011, in response to an inquiry from an LB representative, the Borough denied any intention to condemn the Property. However, once the Borough adopted the redevelopment plan on September 26, 2011, the Borough engaged an appraiser to ascertain the fair market value of the Property. The appraiser opined that as of August 24, 2011, its fair market value was $0. He calculated that value because the cost to renovate the Property far exceeded its market value following renovation and rehabilitation. The appraiser also assigned a fair market value of $270,000 without renovations. In a letter dated November 11, 2011, the Borough offered Malik $270,000 for the Property. Malik declined the Borough's offer. That same date, LB’s attorney contacted the Borough, expressing its surprise that the Borough intended to condemn the Property and noted that the Borough’s offer was far less than the price offered by Citadel in June 2011. LB’s attorney informed the Borough that it had obtained a final judgment of foreclosure and that the Property was scheduled to be sold at Sheriff’s Sale. Noting that it would soon own the Property, LB expressed its desire to meet with the Borough to discuss reasonable compensation for the Property. In this appeal, the issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was whether N.J.S.A. 20:3-6 required a condemning authority to engage in bona fide negotiations with a mortgage holder that has obtained a final judgment of foreclosure for the property sought to be condemned. In this case, the condemning authority initiated eminent domain proceedings after the property owner rejected its offer to acquire the property, just days before the holder of the foreclosure judgment expected the property to be sold at a Sheriff’s Sale. The judgment holder contended it was the real party in interest, and that the condemning authority had an obligation to negotiate with it rather than the property owner prior to initiating condemnation proceedings. The trial court concluded that the condemning authority had properly submitted the offer to the owner of record, and the subsequent rejection of the offer satisfied the statutory requirement of bona fide negotiations prior to the exercise of eminent domain authority. The trial court also determined that the condemning authority had no obligation to advise the foreclosure judgment holder of its intention to condemn or to engage in bona fide negotiations with it. In a reported decision, the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff American Dream at Marlboro, L.L.C., is the successor in interest to Beacon Road Associates, L.L.C., an entity that served as the residential developer of a series of lots. In 1994 and 1995, Plaintiff’s predecessor sought the approval of the Marlboro Township Planning Board for "Beacon Woods I." In 1995, the Planning Board granted preliminary major subdivision approval specifically conditioned on the inclusion of a restriction in the deed for a "flag lot" that would preclude its further subdivision. In 1999, Defendant Patricia Cleary entered into a contract with Plaintiff to purchase one of the properties in the originally-approved development. Defendant's lot backed onto the flag lot. The Planning Board approved Plaintiff's application for a new subdivision. The resolution made no reference to the deed restriction. Plaintiff closed on the purchase of the additional land and vacated the easement that had provided that parcel with separate access to a nearby road. In 2002, when Plaintiff entered into an agreement to sell the new subdivision to another developer, Plaintiff realized that it failed to reserve the easement that it needed to cross Defendant's property. When negotiations to secure Defendant's consent to the easement failed, Plaintiff redesigned the roadway so as to obviate the need the easement. In 2006, Plaintiff returned to the Planning Board and requested that it act on its 2003 application for an amendment to the subdivision approval, but the Board rejected it, noting that prior approvals had expired. In April 2003, Plaintiff filed suit for a declaration that its 2003 application had been approved by default. Defendant as intervenor, filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration that the flag lot was prohibited from being subdivided because of the earlier-imposed deed restriction, along with an order directing Plaintiff to record the deed restriction. The trial court concluded that the Planning Board could not approve the amended application because it lacked jurisdiction to eliminate the deed restriction. The court therefore entered an order declaring that all of the prior approvals for the subdivision were void, and it permitted Plaintiff to amend its complaint to eliminate the deed restriction based on changed circumstances. The Supreme Court granted Defendant's petition for certification, and after review concluded the trial court misapplied the governing standards for considering the application to eliminate the restriction based on changed circumstances. View "AmericanDream at Marlboro, L.L.C. v. Marlboro Township Planning Board" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a court may consider as part of its determination of an as-applied challenge to State law limiting places where sexually-oriented businesses may operate, the availability of alternate channels of communication located in another state. Defendant 35 Club began operating an "all nude gentlemen's cabaret" in Sayreville. Shortly after the club opened, the Borough brought suit to permanently enjoin the club from operating its business in the location it chose because it was within 1,000 feet of a public park or residential zone. The issue at trial was whether the applicable statute could constitutionally be applied to the club. The Borough's expert witness identified the so-called alternative channels of communication which still complied with the Borough's zoning statutes; the club's expert found none, and went outside the Borough but within the club's relevant market in making its determination. At the close of evidence, the Chancery Division concluded that the Borough had carried its burden of demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence the availability of adequate alternative channels of communication within the market area relevant to the club's business. In evaluating the adequacy of alternative channels of communication when deciding an as-applied constitutional challenge to the State's statute limiting the places where sexually-oriented businesses may operate, the Supreme Court held that trial courts are not precluded from considering the existence of sites that are located outside of New Jersey but that are found within the relevant market area as defined by the parties' experts. View "Borough of Sayreville v. 35 Club, L.L.C." on Justia Law