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Bell v. The Zoning Board of Adjustment of the Borough of Ramsey

A-1463-03T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; PRESUMPTIONS—A reviewing court is charged with determining whether a land use board’s decision is reasonably supported by the record and must defer to the board’s determinations as to credibility of the testifying witnesses.

An applicant sued a municipal zoning board after denial of its application “for a conditional use variance” to build a car wash. During the application hearings, the decisive issue for the board “was whether cars waiting in line to enter the car wash would back up onto the busy roadway adjacent to the car wash, creating a traffic hazard.” The board “denied the application due to the [applicant’s] failure to prove that the deviation from [a] 150-feet lot depth requirement would not cause queuing into” a major highway. It believed that if there were a back-up, it would create “traffic and safety problems” in an “already congested area.” The applicant appealed the board’s decision, arguing that it “was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

The Appellate Division held that “the reviewing court is charged with determining whether the board’s decision is reasonably supported by the record,” and must “defer to the Board’s determinations as to the credibility of the testifying witnesses.” “The purpose of the 150-foot depth requirement was to ensure adequate space for queuing and stacking of cars on the car wash property, in order to prevent traffic problems on the road adjacent to the car wash.” Thus, the Court additionally held that the record supported the conclusion that the location of the applicants’ property was especially “unfavorable for a car wash because of the heavy traffic” on the adjacent turnpike “and the proximity of” a highway entrance ramp. It also found that there was “sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the Board’s conclusion” and held there was no error in the board’s strict application of “the 150-foot depth requirement and denying the variance application.” Finally, the Court rejected the applicant’s “contention that the revised lot depth provision of the zoning ordinance” was unconstitutionally vague, since it found that the provision was quite specific and contained “‘an acceptable engineering practice’ for calculating lot depth.”

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