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Concerned Citizens of Princeton, Inc. v. Mayor and Council of the Borough of Princeton

370 N.J. Super. 429, 851 A.2d 685 (App. Div. 2004)

REDEVELOPMENT; BLIGHT—The designation “blighted” can be used to describe affluent areas because to designate land for redevelopment as “blighted,” a municipality need only satisfy any one of seven statutory criteria.

Pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL), a local governing council designated certain municipal properties in its central business district as being in an area in need of redevelopment. This designation was in response to nearly two decades of the municipality exploring various alternatives to its parking problems. The council retained an urban development consulting firm to address the feasibility of the designation. After a public hearing at which no one from the public attended, the planning board unanimously recommended to the municipality’s council that the subject site be designated as an area in need of redevelopment. Accordingly, the council did so by enacting an ordinance. In response, local merchants and residents opposing the project filed a complaint, seeking a judgment that the subject site was not blighted and was not in need of redevelopment. The lower court dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, the objectors contended that the property could not be considered “blighted” because of the area’s relative affluence. The LRHL specifically provides that “[a]n area determined to be in need of redevelopment ... shall be deemed to be a ‘blighted’ area.’” The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that using “blighted” as a descriptor did not mean that affluent areas could not be designated as blighted if the statutory criteria for such a designation were met. It held that the LRHL and its legislative history showed that the Legislature intended that the LRHL would cover a broad range of circumstances under which a municipality could treat an area as being in need of redevelopment, without any conflict with the concept of relative affluence. The LRHL authorizes a municipality to designate areas for redevelopment if only one of seven conditions enumerated in the statute is met. The lower court concluded that the council had satisfied two of the subsections.

Nonetheless, the objectors contended that a municipality may only use the limited criteria set forth in subsection (c) of LRHL to designate an area as blighted. Subsection (c) refers to public or private land that, by reason of remoteness, inaccessibility, topography or soil conditions, is not likely to be developed by private capital. The Court disagreed, holding that this subsection does not preclude a municipality from designating public land for redevelopment under any of the other subsections. Therefore, because the council had shown that the designated land qualified under at least one of the statutory criteria of the LRHL, it affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the objectors’ claim.

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