2024 Center Avenue v. Board of Adjustment of the Borough of Fort Lee

A-6252-96T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: May 29, 1998

ZONING—In interpreting zoning regulations, the characteristics of a “restaurant” and that of an on-site catering establishment are essentially the same.

A business owner applied to the municipality’s board of adjustment for permission to operate an on-site catering business in the municipality’s central business district. Permission was granted, but a neighbor filed an action in lieu of prerogative writ challenging the board’s decision. The local ordinance permitted the operation of restaurants in the zone, but was silent with respect to on-site catering facilities. The zoning code further stated that any use not specifically designated was prohibited. Although the word “restaurant” was not defined by the code, other municipal ordinances referred to those establishments in terms of “eating or drinking” and “sale or consumption of food or beverages.” The municipality had previously allowed other restaurants in the zone to provide on-site catering services. The reason the business owner went to the board originally was because the zoning officer denied its request to use the property as an on-site catering facility, noting that while restaurants are permitted in the zoning district, “catering [is] not listed in the applicable ordinance.”

The lower court interpreted the board’s resolution as a determination that the proposed catering facility was a permitted use under the municipality’s zoning ordinance. It also independently construed the zoning ordinance as allowing on-site catering establishments. The Appellate Division, upholding the lower court, found: (1) the record indicated that at least some restaurants had traditionally provided on-site catering without intervention; and (2) the characteristics of a “pure” restaurant and on-site catering facility are essentially the same.