Articles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court

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East Allendale, LLC owned a 2.13 acre parcel of land in the Borough of Saddle River. Part of the property was located in the office zone, which restricted improved lot coverage to 30 percent of the lot's total area. In 2004, East Allendale submitted an application to the Borough's Zoning Board of Adjustment (Board) for a permit to build a 10,000 square foot bank building and parking lot on the property. The site plan required approval of a bulk variance to allow 42 percent improved lot coverage. The Board initially denied the permit and East Allendale subsequently withdrew its application in the face of critical questioning prior to the Board's final action. The Borough later filed a complaint exercising its power of eminent domain in order to acquire the subject property for use as a public park. After the parties agreed that the Borough duly exercised its power of eminent domain, the court appointed three commissioners to determine the just compensation owed to East Allendale. The commissioners completed their appraisals and the court entered an order determining the just compensation for the taking to be $1,593,625. The parties appealed the amount and demanded a jury trial. Just compensation was the sole trial issue. The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this matter was whether it was proper to allow the jury to hear evidence on the likelihood of a zoning change without the trial court first determining outside of the jury's presence that there was a reasonable probability of a zoning change. The Court concluded the jury heard evidence about the probability of a zoning change that should have been ruled on by the judge in advance and outside of the jury's presence. A new trial on just compensation was thus required because the jury heard speculative evidence that undermined the soundness of its property valuation determination. View "Borough of Saddle River v. 66 East Allendale, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Norfolk Southern Railway Company owned and operated Croxton Yard, a large intermodal freight facility. Business was expected to grow; the railroad's future plans included the Crescent Corridor project, which would expand rail service from ports in New York and New Jersey across the United States and into Mexico. In 2004, Norfolk Southern decided to expand the yard by acquiring three adjacent properties, including one owned by defendant Intermodal Properties, LLC. Intermodal rejected Norfolk Southern's offers, and the railroad initiated condemnation proceedings through a petition filed with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which referred the contested case to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Intermodal proposed to use the property as a parking facility for the Secaucus Junction passenger rail station, a use it contended was more compatible with the public interest. The ALJ precluded Intermodal from invoking the prior public use doctrine because the property was not being used for a public purpose and was not zoned to permit a parking facility. Intermodal succeeded in having the property rezoned, but the ALJ deemed this irrelevant since Intermodal presented no evidence that any entity was willing to enter into a contract for public parking. The ALJ also disagreed with Intermodal's contention that the statutory provision permitting a taking only "as exigencies of business may demand" required the railroad to demonstrate an urgent need. The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court centered on two statutory provisions relating to the eminent domain power vested in public utilities and railroads. The Court found that Norfolk Southerns proposed use met the requirement of N.J.S.A. 48:3-17.7 that the taking be "not incompatible with the public interest." Intermodal could not invoke the prior public use doctrine because it lacked the power to condemn and its proposed use was neither prior nor public. As used in N.J.S.A. 48:12-35.1, "exigencies of business" did not necessitate an urgent need for land in order to justify a taking, instead it limits a railroad's power to condemn to those circumstances where the general needs or ordinary course of business require it. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Intermodal Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant New Vornado/Saddle Brook, LLC owned a tract of land that was located in East Brunswick's HC-2 (General Highway Commercial District) zone. The property included one vacant free-standing building which New Vornado sought to convert into a gym. Because a for-profit health club was treated as a conditional use in the zone, the gym was required to comply with the relevant conditions established in the zoning ordinance, particularly that the boundary of the lot on which the gym was to be situated could not be located within 500 feet of any residence. On the other side of the street and behind other existing commercial buildings, there was a small residential neighborhood 1,200 feet away from New Vornado's property, but the edge was within 500 feet of a residence. New Vornado filed an application seeking a conditional use variance to enable it to open the gym. Plaintiff TSI East Brunswick, LLC (TSI), the owner of a health club located across the street from New Vornado's property, was the principal objector to New Vornado's application. Plaintiff filed suit to challenge the local Zoning Board's approval of New Vornado's variance. The trial court upheld the Board's decision, finding that New Vornado had met its burden of proving that its proposed plan satisfied both the positive and negative criteria and that TSI had failed to demonstrate that the Board's grant of a conditional use variance was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. TSI appealed; the Appellate Division affirmed. After its review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division and affirmed the Zoning Board's decision. View "TSI East Brunswick, LLC v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment of Twp. of East Brunswick" on Justia Law

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Defendants Harvey and Phyllis Karan owned a beachfront home which had a panoramic view of the beach and ocean. Plaintiff Borough of Harvey Cedars sought an easement over more than one quarter of the Karans' property to build a storm-protection dune which would invariably obstruct the Karans' view. When the Karans withheld consent, the Borough used its eminent domain power to acquire the easement. Since the parties could not agree on just compensation, the Borough filed an action in the Law Division. The Karans rejected a three-member panel of appointed commissioners' award and demanded a jury trial. At the end of trial, the court charged the jury that the Karans were entitled to "just compensation," defined as the difference between the fair market value of the property immediately before the taking and the fair market value of the remaining property immediately after the taking. It explained that fair market value included those features that enhanced the property, as well as those that diminished it, but it specifically prohibited the jury from considering any project-related general benefit enjoyed by other residents of the Borough. The jury awarded the Karans $375,000. The issue of what constituted "just compensation" was before the Supreme Court on appeal. The Court concluded after its review that a property's fair market value should be used as the benchmark in computing "just compensation": non-speculative, reasonably calculable benefits that increase the property's value at the time of the taking regardless of whether those benefits are enjoyed to a lesser or greater degree by others in the community. Because the Borough was prohibited from presenting evidence of such benefits, and the trial court erroneously charged the jury as to the calculation method for just compensation, the Court remanded for a new trial. View "Borough of Harvey Cedars v. Karan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kane Properties, LLC contracted to purchase a piece of property in Hoboken zoned for industrial use. It applied for the necessary variances to construct a residential building. The Zoning Board granted the requested variances. The principal objector to plaintiff's proposal, Skyline Condominimum Association, Inc. appealed to the Hoboken City Council. Before the hearing, Skyline's attorney accepted an appointment as the City Council's attorney. Plaintiff objected to the attorney's participation in the appeal, and the attorney recused himself. Council reversed the zoning board's decision. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the attorney's involvement in the Skyline appeal in spite of a conflict of interest had irreparably tainted the City Council’s decision. The trial court affirmed the City Council’s decision. Plaintiff then appealed to the Appellate Division. After applying an appearance-of-impropriety standard and finding a conflict of interest, the panel concluded that the attorney's participation in the appeal tainted the City Council’s action. The matter was remanded to the City Council for a proceeding de novo. But Plaintiff filed a petition for certification to the Supreme Court, arguing that a remand back to the City Council was inappropriate. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court set aside the City Council's decision because the Court found it was tainted by its new attorney's conflict of interest. View "Kane Properties, LLC v. City of Hoboken" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that in a case involving issues for zoning variances under the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), evaluation of the suitable standard is a fact-specific and site-sensitive matter requiring a finding that the general welfare would be served because the proposed use was peculiarly fitted to the particular location. Although the availability of alternative locations is relevant, it does not bar a finding of particular suitability. View "Price v. Himeji, LLC" on Justia Law

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Caliber Builders, Inc., sought to develop a parcel of land commonly referred to as "Golden Orchards." A small portion of the parcel is in Washington Township, but the bulk of it is in the Borough of Hillsdale, where it is included in the residential (R-2) zone. Intending of constructing an age-restricted housing development, which was a conditional use in the R-2 zone, Caliber submitted a preliminary site plan application to the Hillsdale Planning Board. Plaintiff Northgate Condominium Association, Inc., manages and operates a previously-existing condominium community built on an adjacent parcel of land in Washington Township. In this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the lot designations contained in the notice of public hearings on an application for a conditional use approval sufficiently complied with the provisions of the Municipal Land Use Law to confer jurisdiction on the Planning Board, and whether the project design of the internal roadway complied with requirements of the Residential Site Improvement Standards. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the developer's notice of public hearings, although using lot numbers that were not included on the official tax map, did not misidentify the lot to be developed, complied with the provisions of the Municipal Land Use Law, and conferred jurisdiction on the Planning Board. "Plaintiff fail[ed] to point to anything in the record supporting its claim that the project design of the internal roadway did not comply with density requirements under the Residential Site Improvement Standards." View "Northgate Condominium Association, Inc. v. Borough of Hillsdale Planning Board" 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