Coalition for a Better Waterfront v. City of Hoboken

A-7556-95T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: April 1, 1998

ZONING; VARIANCES—In determining whether a zoning ordinance was validly adopted, a court need only find a single valid purpose even if the ordinance may have been adopted to satisfy an invalid purpose.

The Coalition for a Better Waterfront (Coalition) challenged a municipal planning board’s grant of variances to a landowner for a planned unit development. A separate action challenged the conduct of the planning board. After consolidation, the Law Division invalidated the board’s approval and stated that if the municipality wanted to approve the board’s decision, it had to pass amendments to the zoning ordinance. After the municipality passed the relevant amendments, suit was filed claiming the amendments constituted spot zoning and were enacted for the benefit of a private party and not the general welfare, in violation of both the municipality’s master plan and New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law. The lower court dismissed the complaint after concluding that the City’s motive was immaterial because the amendments bore a reasonable relationship to the principles of good zoning.

On appeal, the Coalition argued that summary judgment was inappropriate because a plenary hearing is required when determining the purpose of an ordinance and whether or not it is consistent with a municipality’s master plan. Riggs v. Long Beach Township, 109 N.J. 601 (1988). The Appellate Division disputed the Coalition’s reading of Riggs, interpreting it as stating that when determining the purpose of an ordinance only objective factors, such as the ordinance’s terms, operation, and effect, are to be considered. The legislature’s subjective intent is immaterial unless there has been a challenge to the motive behind an ordinance. No such challenge had been made in the instant case. The Riggs court stated that as long as there is one valid purpose for an ordinance, even if there is also an invalid purpose, courts should not guess which purpose the governing body had in mind, and should simply uphold the validity of the ordinance if it is facially valid. Under the foregoing analysis, the Appellate Division concluded that summary judgment was appropriately granted in favor of the municipality because the lower court had sufficient objective evidence with which to conclude that the municipality had both a proper purpose and a reasonable basis for its amendments. Finally, the Court found the zoning amendments consistent with the Municipal Land Use Law, since that law only requires that an amendment be “substantially consistent” with the land use plan, or in the alternative, that a departure from the master plan not distort the basic provisions and objectives of the plan. Giving deference to the local governmental body on the issue of substantial consistency, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s findings.