Land Use Public Notices: N.J. Developers/Attorneys Beware!!!

In the most recent case decided in New Jersey on the issue of the adequacy of a land use public notice, the court continued the trend of requiring applicants on development applications to put as much information in their notices as possible to make the general public aware of the nature of the matter under consideration. In Neshanic Coalition for Historic Preservation v. Hillsborough Township Planning Board, Judge Buchsbaum ruled that the applicant’s public notice failed to meet the statutory requirement of setting forth the “nature of the matters to be considered” under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law because it omitted the fact that the building to be demolished was located in an historic district.

The court made this ruling despite the fact that the notice had properly identified:

  • the size and location of the property,
  • the dimensional variances being applied for, and
  • the need for a stream corridor waiver.

In analyzing the adequacy of the notice, the court stated that the mention of the building being located in an historic district amounted to “basic information that would help an ordinary person determine whether to object to the application or seek additional information.”

Another fact that the court relied upon in its decision was that the Planning Board of Hillsborough Township did not know that the building was located in a historic district until after taking action to approve the application for site plan approval to construct a 6,700 sq. ft. office building where a single family home built in 1897 currently exists. The Planning Board learned of the historic district issue only when debating the language of the approving resolution.

This case raises some very notable issues for land use attorneys and developers.

  • First, must the zoning district and possibly a historic overlay district (or any overlay district for that matter) be included in the notice for the public hearing?
  • Second, is it the applicant’s responsibility, either through its lawyer or design professional, to alert and educate the municipality of its own zoning information?

The key take-away for this case is that an applicant should always err on the side of caution when drafting its public notice. It is better to be overly inclusive than omit a piece of information that may come back to invalidate the entire proceeding after a time consuming and expensive litigation process. In addition, that over-inclusiveness may at times require the applicant to bring certain zoning issues to a land use board’s attention even where the board’s own professionals have failed to identify the issue. Doing this may save the applicant a lot of time and money in the long run, and could prevent an appeal by an objector.

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