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Ahold Corporation v. Board of Adjustment of The Township of Springfield

A-3965-03T1, 2005 WL 2806258 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; SITE PLANS—In evaluating site plan applications, a land use board is only empowered to determine whether the proposed site plan conforms with the municipal zoning ordinance and applicable site plan ordinance; it is not empowered to set forth conditions.

A supermarket applied to the municipality’s board of adjustment for site plan approval to construct a store. The board heard the application on a remand from the New Jersey Supreme Court even though, as a site plan review, it otherwise would have been evaluated by the municipality’s planning board. The property was previously owned by a retail department store. The board denied the application on the basis that the proposed truck unloading area was unsafe and would have a negative impact on nearby residential streets. The board then set forth twenty-five conditions that, if met, the board would grant the site plan application. The supermarket filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the board’s decision. The lower court invalidated the board’s denial of the application and approved the site plan with the twenty-five conditions set forth by the board. It then added one additional condition regarding lighting that the supermarket had to meet in order for the site-plan to be approved. The supermarket appealed the lower court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s reversal of the board’s decision. It discussed the standard by which municipal board’s of adjustment are required to follow when evaluating site plan applications. It ruled that the board’s authority is limited to determining whether the proposed site plan conforms with the municipal zoning ordinance and applicable site plan ordinance. As a result, a board may not deny a site plan application if it does not violate the municipal zoning ordinance. In this case, the Court found that the board failed to cite any part of the zoning or site plan ordinance that was violated by the company’s proposed site plan. For this reason alone, it held that the board’s decision should be overturned. It then reviewed the board’s ruling that the proposed trucking unloading area was unsafe. The Court found that there was no evidence to support the board’s determination that this area was unsafe. It further found that there were no reasons expressed by the board members as to why the granting of the application was contingent upon the company meeting twenty-five conditions. As a result, it remanded the site plan application to the board for review as to whether the site plan violated the municipal zoning or site plan ordinance and to reevaluate the twenty-five conditions that had been imposed. In addition, it reversed the lower court’s imposition of an additional condition, ruling that the lower court exceeded its authority in imposing the condition.

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