Atlantic Container, Inc. v. Township of Eagleswood Planning Board

312 N.J. Super. 213, 711 A.2d 419 (Law Div. 1997)
  • Opinion Date: December 8, 1997

ZONING—A zoning board is not entitled to a presumption of validity if the question is one of interpretation of a zoning law. A material recoveries facility was found to be within the definition for a limited manufacturing zone because it was an industrial use similar to, and not inconsistent with, specific uses that the relevant ordinance listed as being permissible uses within the zone.

A company applied for a use variance to build a materials recovery facility which would receive construction debris containers storing wood, concrete, roofing shingles, and metal. The debris would be sorted manually, with recyclable materials being sold to third parties and the remainder taken to a dump. The proposed facility was to be located in a limited manufacturing zone, and a section of the municipality’s zoning ordinance listed permitted uses in that zone, including the manufacturing of machinery and the fabrication of metal and wood. A “catchall” subpart of that section of the ordinance permits any industrial use similar to, and not inconsistent with, the listed uses. The planning board concluded that the proposed use was not permitted under the ordinance because the facility would simply be a transfer station for disposal of solid waste, and there would be no manufacturing taking place.

First, the Law Division noted that this case involved interpretation of a zoning ordinance, which is purely a legal determination. Accordingly, the planning board was not entitled to a presumption of validity as it is when a court determines only whether a planning board was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Factors considered by the Law Division included interpretation of the legislation and the fundamental purpose for which it was enacted, the nature of the subject matter, the history of the legislation, and the reading of other statutes in conjunction with the ordinance. After review, it found that none of the permitted uses precisely fit into the “manufacturing” category, and that other language in the ordinance indicated that industrial uses were also permitted. It then reversed the planning board’s finding, concluding that the proposed use was permitted under the catchall subpart of the ordinance because it was an industrial use similar to, and not inconsistent with, other uses expressly permitted. Thus, it held that the company did not need a variance after finding that other expressly permitted uses were more objectionable than the proposed use.