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Burch v. Hardwick Township Zoning Board of Adjustment

A-4788-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

ZONING — Ordinarily, a land use board’s resolution should contain sufficient findings, based on the proof submitted, to satisfy a reviewing court that it analyzed the master plan and zoning ordinance, and determined that the governing body’s prohibition of a prohibited is not incompatible with a variance grant.

A property owner unsuccessfully applied to a municipal zoning board for bulk variances. After the owner challenged the board’s initial decision in the Law Division, the parties ultimately entered into a five-paragraph long, written settlement agreement. The zoning board subsequently adopted a twelve-page resolution. It included its initial findings of facts and conclusions even though the property owner claimed these were unnecessary. The resolution added to the settlement agreement by reciting that the proposed dwelling had to be constructed at a minimum width, a maximum depth, and a minimum footprint and obligated the owner’s “assigns” to obtain all requisite third-party zoning permits before obtaining a zoning permit. The owner filed a motion to modify the board’s resolution, arguing that it contained unnecessary text that would intimidate potential buyers and reduce the property’s marketability.

The lower court ordered the board to delete the width, depth, and building footprint requirements and to delete the requirement that assignees obtain a zoning permit. The Court did not order the deletion of the findings of facts, conclusions, or other so-called unnecessary information. The owner appealed further, contending, pursuant to the settlement agreement terms, it was entitled to a “clean resolution” unencumbered with “page after page of irrelevant … information.”

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling and remanded for entry of an order consistent with its opinion. It held that a board’s resolution, ordinarily, should contain sufficient findings, based on the proofs submitted, to satisfy a reviewing court that it analyzed the master plan and zoning ordinance, and determined that the governing body’s prohibition of the proposed use was not incompatible with a variance grant. In this case, however, and notwithstanding that usual mandate, the settlement agreement precluded the need to document the procedural history or to include the board’s initial findings and conclusions. According to the Court, the terms of the settlement agreement, as set forth in its five numbered paragraphs on a single page, were clear and straightforward. Accordingly, it held that the additional language in the board’s resolution was superfluous and unnecessary.


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