Tagged: Action in Lieu of Prerogative Writ

Appellate Division Underscores Need for Findings, and Potentially More Testimony, to Approve Reduction of Variance

It’s a common scenario: after a series of public hearings, the scope of variance relief sought is reduced by the applicant or at the direction of the board, and the board then approves the application. A recent unreported opinion from New Jersey’s Appellate Division underscores that the resolution of approval must explain how and why the reduced scope of relief satisfies the variance criteria when the original proposal did not. This may require presentation of additional testimony by the applicant in support of the modifications. In 440 Company-Carriage House, LP v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment for the Borough of Palisades Park, the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the Borough of Palisades Park (“Board”) granted three use variances (along with final site plan approval and certain bulk variance relief) to enable the construction of a 14-story, 121-unit, residential building. The relief granted by the Board represented a substantial reduction from what the applicant-developer had actually sought and presented testimony in support of over the course of a public hearing which extended for nine meetings. The developer had originally applied for use variances to permit a 17-story building, with 154 units. Rather than approving the project as presented, or denying it, the Board, acting on its own, voted to grant the variances with a reduction from 17...

An Application for Development Must Include All Checklist Items for Protection of “Time of Application” Rule to Apply, New Jersey Supreme Court Says

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today, in a unanimous opinion in a case of first impression captioned Dunbar Homes, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of the Township of Franklin, et al., that to receive the protection of the “time of application” rule, an application must comply with the definition of “application for development” in the Municipal Land Use Law (“MLUL”), meaning that it must include all of the items required by the submission checklist which the municipality has adopted by ordinance. This case constitutes the first time the Supreme Court has interpreted the “time of application” rule, and its decision will impact the review of development applications throughout the state. The MLUL’s “time of application” rule provides that the ordinances and regulations in effect “on the date of submission of an application for development” govern review of that application. This reversed the longstanding “time of decision” rule whereby municipalities could change the zoning regulations at any time prior to the approval of an application for development, even where the change was enacted during a public hearing process specifically for the purpose of derailing a pending application. Under the “time of application” rule, the date upon which “an application for development” was submitted for review is key to determining what ordinances apply to it...

NJ Municipality’s Implied Acceptance of a Private Lane as a Public Road Requires Actions Consistent with Ownership or Evidencing Intent to Treat the Lane as Dedicated to Public Use

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed the Chancery Division’s determination that a municipality only impliedly accepts a private lane as a public road if it takes actions consistent with ownership or that otherwise evidence an intent to treat the land as dedicated to public use. In Holloway v. McManus, et al., an unpublished decision, an applicant sought to subdivide his property, which had access solely by way of a 25 foot wide unimproved dirt and gravel lane running across the McManus defendants’ land, into 13 residential lots. In connection with this application, the applicant requested the Township of Jackson provide permanent access to the property by declaring the unimproved lane a public road. The unimproved lane was depicted on a number of public documents, including: (i) a 1974 survey, which showed the path as a 10 to 12 foot “sand road”; (ii) the Township’s tax maps, which indicated the lane was a 25 foot “utility access easement”; and (iii) a 2002 subdivision map, submitted to the Township by another non-party development, which showed the path as a 25 foot “dirt and gravel utility access easement to be dedicated to [the] Township,” which was referenced in the legal description of the McManus defendants’ deed to their property. Nearby landowners, including the McManus defendants, objected to...

Mere Fact That Application Would Bring Development Closer Into Compliance With Zoning Code Insufficient to Warrant Grant of Site Plan Approval and Variance, N.J. Appellate Division Affirms

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed denial of an application for site plan approval and variance relief despite an applicant’s contention that the application’s issues identified by the Planning Board were too minor to justify denial of the application that would bring the subject property into conformity with the zoning code. Although unpublished and nonbinding, the decision confirms New Jersey courts’ broad deference to local boards in this state, making clear that if a land use board’s legitimate concerns are not addressed by an application, the mere fact that the application would bring a property into conformity with the local zoning code is insufficient to secure a variance under New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law. In World Wheat Foundation, Inc. v. Planning Board of the Township of Saddle River, et al., a church-based, not-for-profit organization, sought site plan approval and variance relief to convert a property that previously served as a residential facility for the elderly into a vocational school to assist Korean families with language and the arts. The previous facility ceased operations more than two years prior to the application. The property was situated in the Township’s Secondary Business Zone, in which the former residential facility was not a permitted use, but the proposed vocational school was permitted. The applicant also sought...

N.J. Appellate Division Affirms Default Approval of Substantially Complete Application for Redevelopment Project

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed a trial court’s grant of an automatic site plan approval for an 87-unit multi-family residential project with possible commercial space on the ground floor in Jersey City. The decision simultaneously sheds light on what it means for an application to be “complete” and when the Municipal Land Use Law’s proverbial 95-day stopwatch for the grant or denial of preliminary approval begins ticking. In Bright and Varick Urban Renewal Co. LLC v. Jersey City Planning Bd., after the City designated the subject property as an area in need of redevelopment and adopted a redevelopment plan, the designated redeveloper filed an application seeking site plan approval for the project. The City’s Principle Planner informed the redeveloper that it needed to submit an additional 12 outstanding items before the application would be considered. The redeveloper submitted 11 of the 12 outstanding items, and stated it would provide the twelfth item upon request. Thereafter, the Principle Planner confirmed in writing that the application was “substantially complete,” and requested the redeveloper make minor changes to its plans without mentioning the twelfth outstanding item. Two months later, the City had concerns about the density of the project, tabled the application for another approximately two months, and then ultimately denied the application due to the...

Time of Application Rule Protects Against Zoning Changes Only if an Application for Development Complies with All Ordinance Submission Requirements, New Jersey Appellate Court Rules

The New Jersey Appellate Division, in the published decision Dunbar Homes, Inc. v. The Zoning Board of Adjustment of the Township of Franklin, et al., recently declared what materials a developer must submit to a municipal land use board in order to constitute an “application for development” which triggers the protections of the Municipal Land Use Law’s (“MLUL”) “time of application” rule, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10.5. Dunbar Homes establishes that an application is afforded the protections of the “time of application” rule from the time when an applicant submits an application form and all accompanying documents required by ordinance for approval. A formal finding that an application is “complete” by the municipality is not required. Thus, Dunbar Homes requires that the application essentially must be complete, even though that need has not yet been officially determined. The MLUL’s “time of application” rule provides that the ordinances and regulations in effect “on the date of submission of an application for development” govern review of that application. This reverses the longstanding “time of decision” rule whereby municipalities could change the zoning regulations at any time prior to the approval of an application for development, even where the change was enacted during a public hearing process specifically for the purpose of derailing a pending application. Under the “time of application” rule,...

FEMA Amendments to Base Floor Elevation Requirements, When Minor, Do Not Necessarily Give Rise to Hardship Showing for Height Variance Says NJ App Div

In its recent decision in Richmond URF, LLC v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Jersey City, the Appellate Division held that a minor alteration in base floor elevation requirements in the wake of FEMA’s amendments to the regulations after SuperStorm Sandy does not necessarily give rise to showing a hardship in support of a height variance under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d)(6).

A New Jersey Statute That May Go a Long Way On Your Next Solar or Wind Project!

Experienced New Jersey developers and land use attorneys understand the challenges that face an applicant when the proposed use is not expressly permitted in the municipality’s zoning district wherethe subject property is located. The challenge is only more complicated if the proposed use involves novel or unfamiliar technology such as renewable energy. However, in New Jersey, the government has been proactive in welcoming renewable energy projects through grants and legislation, making New Jersey definitely the place to be if you want to develop property geared towards the creation of a renewable energy facility powered by solar or wind.

What You Need to Know About Variances and Existing Non-Conformities for Your Next Development Application in NJ

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided and approved for publication Cortesini v. Hamilton Township Planning Board, a case that addressed the issue of whether a developer must apply for a variance in connection with a pre-existing non-conforming condition created by a prior/non-appealable development approval. The Court’s answer was a resounding “no” based on the facts presented.

Will the New Jersey Supreme Court Respect “Repose” for the Diligent Developer?

For a real estate developer in New Jersey, it seems that there is no “repose” when it comes to the finality of land use approvals. Repose you ask? While the word may garner images of warm weather days at poolside, a developer can only think of repose as the day the appeal period expires on hard-won land use approvals, especially after facing objecting citizens at multiple hearings.