Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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Quaker Valley Farms, LLC (Quaker Valley) owned approximately 120 acres of deed-restricted farmland in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. As part of New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program, the State purchased an easement on the property that prohibited any activity on the property that was detrimental to soil conservation, but permitted the construction of new buildings for agricultural purposes. Quaker Valley excavated and leveled twenty acres of the farm previously used for the production of crops, to erect hoop houses (temporary greenhouses) in which it would grow flowers. In the process, Quaker Valley destroyed the land’s prime quality soil. At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether Quaker Valley’s excavation activities violated its deed of easement and the Agriculture Retention and Development Act (ARDA). The Supreme Court determined Quaker Valley had the right to erect hoop houses, but did not have the authority to permanently damage a wide swath of premier quality soil in doing so. Accordingly, the judgment of the Appellate Division, which overturned the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the State Agriculture Development Committee, was reversed. “Those who own deed-restricted farmland must have well delineated guidelines that will permit them to make informed decisions about the permissible limits of their activities.” View "New Jersey v. Quaker Valley Farms, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a tax lienholder has standing to challenge a planning board’s approval of a land use application for a neighboring property. The Court concluded that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-4, a tax lienholder who can show that its “right to use, acquire or enjoy property is or may be affected” if the application is granted is an interested party, and therefore may have standing to challenge a planning board’s approval of a land use application. View "Cherokee LCP Land, LLC v. City of Linden Planning Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Montclair State University (MSU) has attempted to create a third egress from its campus onto a county road. MSU consulted with both the County of Passaic, New Jersey (County) and the City of Clifton (City), ultimately satisfying most of their concerns about the project. When the County failed to respond to MSU’s permit applications, MSU filed this action, seeking a judgment declaring that no permit or local approval was required, or alternatively, an order compelling the County to issue all necessary permits. The trial court denied relief sought. Relying on Rutgers v. Piluso, 60 N.J. 142 (1972), the court reasoned that the parties had to exchange updated traffic studies, consult further, and appear before the local planning boards. Although MSU agreed to make more changes to its plan, the impasse remained. The principal point of contention was the design speed of the campus roadway, which the County and City claimed was unsafe. MSU declined to make the change proposed by the County and the City, relying on its experts’ conclusion that the road’s planned design speed and posted speed would be safe, and that the alternative design was unsafe. The matter returned to the trial court, which dismissed MSU’s complaint because MSU had not returned to the local planning boards to develop the record further. In reversing the trial court, the Appellate Division held MSU enjoyed a limited immunity but that Rutgers controlled here and prohibits MSU from exercising its power in an “unreasonable fashion.” The panel remanded the matter, instructing that the trial court determine whether MSU had adequately and reasonably consulted with the County and City. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that in circumstances such as were presented here, a judicial finding that the cited public safety concern has been reasonably addressed was a necessary additional requirement before a court could either compel local regulatory action or grant declaratory relief that the planned action is exempt from land use regulation. The appellate court did not specify what record warranted such a finding in every case. “Rather, the trial court should determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether it could make such a finding via a summary proceeding or whether a more fulsome proceeding is necessary.” View "Montclair State University v. County of Passaic" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Dunbar Homes, Inc., (Dunbar) owns a 276-unit garden apartment complex in the General Business Zone (GB-Zone) of Franklin Township (Township). Dunbar sought approval to develop an additional fifty-five garden apartments, which at that time were a permitted conditional use in the GB-Zone. As such, construction of the additional apartments required submission of an application for site plan approval and a “conditional use special reasons” variance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d)(3) ((d)(3) variance). On May 28, 2013, the Township introduced and scheduled a public hearing for an ordinance that eliminated garden apartments as a permitted conditional use in the GB-Zone. The Township adopted the new ordinance on July 16, 2013, and it became effective on August 5, 2013. Eighteen days before it adopted its new ordinance, the Township advised Dunbar of the potential GB-Zone change. The day before the Township adopted its new ordinance, Dunbar submitted an application to the Planning Board for site plan approval and a (d)(3) variance. Two days after the Township’s new zoning ordinance eliminated garden apartments as a conditional use in the GB-Zone, a Township zoning officer emailed Dunbar to indicate that its application was incomplete under the Township’s Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance (Ordinance). The zoning officer provided a list of items “needed for completeness” and instructed Dunbar it would need to apply for a “restricted use special reasons” variance under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d)(1) ((d)(1) variance) Since a (d)(3) variance need not meet the stringent standards required for a (d)(1) variance, approval of a (d)(1) variance was less likely. Dunbar appealed the Township’s decision to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (Board), arguing that the application was “complete” upon submission and was therefore protected by the TOA Rule. Dunbar filed a complaint, asserting that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious or unreasonable. The trial court agreed and reversed the Board, concluding that “there was enough submitted to functionally begin a review” of Dunbar’s application. Thus, the court found that Dunbar was protected by the TOA Rule and could therefore pursue a (d)(3) variance. The Township appealed the trial court’s decision and the Appellate Division reversed. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court: "the plain language of the MLUL defines an 'application for development' as 'the application form and all accompanying documents required by ordinance.' Because Dunbar’s application lacked many of the documents required by the Ordinance, the application was not complete upon submission and does not benefit from the TOA Rule." View "DunbarHomes, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether a homeowner, who challenged the issuance of a zoning permit allowing construction on neighboring property, had a statutory right to be heard before the Borough’s Planning Board, and if so, whether the violation of that right gave rise to an action under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2. In 2009, the Borough of Spring Lake’s then zoning officer issued a zoning permit (First Permit) to Thomas Carter to construct a two-and-a-half-story residence. Plaintiff Mary Harz owned adjoining residential property and brought to the attention of the new Borough zoning officer her concern that Carter’s foundation exceeded the height permitted by the Borough’s zoning ordinance. The Supreme Court found that the Borough’s zoning officer did not adhere to the precise statutory procedures for processing Harz’s appeal, and the Court did not take issue with Harz’s claims that the Borough could have responded in a more efficient way to her objections. In the end, however, Harz could not establish that the Borough denied her the right to be heard before the Planning Board. She therefore could not demonstrate that she was deprived of a substantive right protected by the Civil Rights Act. View "Harz v. Borough of Spring Lake" on Justia Law

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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