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Colts Neck Stables, LLC v. Planning Board of the Township of Colts Neck

A-7031-99T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

ZONING; DEFINITIONS— A horse track consisting of a race track and a fence changes undeveloped land to developed land.

A horse farm owner sought site plan approval and a conditional use permit from a municipality in order to construct a helistop on the infield of a training track located on the property. The planning board rejected the owner’s application. It found that the owner did not comply with the requirements for a conditional use permit. The board also found that the owner’s claim that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s noise standards excluded aeronautical activity was insufficient to prove that the helistop complied with all federal and state noise standards. Further, it found that: (a) the owner did not obtain a license for the helistop from the State Division of Aeronautics before applying for the conditional use permit, as required by the municipality’s zoning ordinance; (b) the helicopter would pass less than 300 feet above a residential lot, contrary to the ordinance; (c) the landing pad was not adequately buffered; and (d) the helicopter would be flying over developed lands during takeoff and landing. After the board rendered its decision, the municipality repealed the provisions of its zoning ordinance that permitted private helistops as a conditional use. The owner challenged the board’s findings, and the court reversed the board’s decision. It found the board’s decision to be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, but remanded the matter to the board to determine if the horse farm was “developed” or “undeveloped” land within the meaning of the zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance that permitted helicopter pads as a conditional use required the final five hundred feet of the approach pad to be a straight line over undeveloped land to permit a safe emergency landing. The owner’s application provided for the helicopter pad to be located on the infield of its training track. The board concluded that the horse track constituted “developed” land, and, since the helicopter pad was to be located in “developed” land, it was not permitted under the zoning ordinance. The lower court focused on the ordinance’s reasoning for requiring the landing pad to be on undeveloped land, which was to ensure a safe emergency landing. It found that, since the landing pad’s location on the track did not impede an emergency landing, the board’s finding that the land was developed and was not suitable for a helicopter pad was unreasonable under the circumstances. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the board’s determination that the race track and fence made the property “developed” was reasonable. It found that the zoning ordinance defined “developed” land as land containing a building or structure. The zoning ordinance defined a horse track as a structure. Therefore, it was reasonable to determine that the horse track constituted developed land. Further, since the zoning ordinance required the municipality to approve a horse track development plan, the board’s conclusion that the property was developed land and was not suited for a helicopter pad, was reasonable.

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