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Corrigan v. Planning Board of the Township of Morris

A-3988-96T5 and A-4114-96T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)

ZONING—Rezoning a property from four separate zoning districts into one zone was not spot zoning where the change was substantially consistent with the municipality’s land use or master plan. In such cases, a court will not interfere with this municipal function. Increasing the number of building units constructable within a particular zone is not an impermissible increase in density where the number of units to be built on the particular land in question results in less than the maximum density permitted by law for that parcel.

A developer sought subdivision approval and a use variance for a 51-acre tract of land which was situated in four different zoning districts. The planning board approved the development and granted the use variance, and the municipality then passed an ordinance which uniformly rezoned the entire property. Neighboring landowners argued that the planning board improperly increased the density on the property, and alleged that the municipality’s ordinance was spot zoning.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the claim that the variance increased the density, which is defined by statute as the permitted number of units per gross area of land to be developed. It cited case law for the notion that density restrictions apply solely to the number of units on a tract of land, and not to the number of units in a particular zone. In this case, the Court found that the number of lots for the whole tract did not exceed the number in the qualifying plan submitted by the developer, and concluded that there was no increase in the permitted density. As to the validity of the municipality’s zoning ordinance, the Appellate Division held that zoning is a municipal function beyond judicial interference, and that unless an ordinance is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or contrary to fundamental zoning principles, it must be upheld. The neighboring landowner argued that the ordinance did not advance any purpose of the Municipal Land Use Act, and was passed only to bolster the planning board’s approval of the variances. However, the Court stated that it would not inquire into legislative motive unless the ordinance was facially invalid. Because the ordinance was facially valid, consistent with the municipality’s master plan, and based on legitimate purposes, it refused to consider the municipality’s motive. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision and upheld both the variance and the ordinance.


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