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Chambers v. Neiffer

A-3692-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

ZONING — A land use board’s actions are presumed to be valid unless shown to be an abuse of discretion.

The owners of a property with a vacant forty-room hotel stood sought to convert the structure into an eleven-unit condominium. The property was located in a historic oceanfront zone which allowed single-family homes, bed and breakfasts, historic hotels, but not multi-family dwellings except under certain circumstances. The property owners applied for a variance to renovate the hotel and create condominium units within it. Their renovation plan required partial demolition. This was approved by the historic preservation committee because significant portions of the building were to be preserved. After the owners agreed to reduce the number of units from eleven to nine, the zoning board of adjustment approved the variance, finding that the renovation would preserve the building’s visual character and that a nine-unit condominium would have less of an impact on the surrounding neighborhood than the building’s original use as a forty-room hotel. An objector sued the property owners and the board, but the lower court affirmed the variance grant.

On appeal, the Appellate Division pointed out that a board’s actions are presumed to be valid unless shown to be an abuse of discretion. The objector argued that the board, by granting the variance, ignored the intent of the municipality’s master plan and effectively rezoned the property. In doing so, it usurped the power of legislative body. The Court disagreed, finding that granting the variance was within the board’s powers since it would not have substantially altered the character of the district, and was in keeping with the goal of the master plan which was to preserve the historic character of the municipality. It also found that the variance request satisfied the necessary positive criteria because it went beyond just improving the aesthetic value of the building, which alone would not have justified a grant of the variance, but that the nonconforming use would help control population density and help preserve the historic structure. The board’s decision to grant the variance was also found to have satisfied the negative criteria because the evidence presented established that the request could be granted without substantially impairing the intent and purpose of the zoning plan. Based on its findings, the Court affirmed the board’s decision.

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