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Donahue v. Township of Deptford Planning Board

A-4607-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING; INTERPRETATION — A local land use board is accorded great latitude to interpret a municipality’s relevant zoning ordinances and, absent the board acting arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably, its interpretation should be respected by the courts.

An objector appealed from a lower court order that had affirmed a planning board’s approval of an application by a house of worship for site plan approval and conditional use approval. The objector argued that the house of worship would not satisfy the conditional use requirements because of two deficiencies. The first had to do with a requirement that “[t]he twenty-five (25) feet closest to the property line or the public street shall be bermed and landscaped so as to screen the use from view.” The second requirement was that a place of worship was required to have “one parking space for every sixty (60) square feet of floor area devoted to patron use or one (1) for every four (4) permanently fixed seats.”

The planning board found that the ordinance “only required the first twenty-five feet of the edge of the front of the property to be bermed and landscaped.” It also found that the parking requirements had been met. In doing so, the “Board determined that the dining hall area should not be included in the calculation of the required number of parking spaces because the dining hall and the prayer hall ‘would not be utilized concurrently’ and ‘the dining hall itself would not generate any additional traffic to and from the site requiring additional parking.’”

In the objector’s argument before the lower court, it alleged that the board was acting arbitrarily, capriciously, and unreasonably. The lower court disagreed, finding that the “ordinance did not require that the property be bermed and landscaped on ‘each and every property line.’” In effect, it agreed with the planning board’s interpretation of the relevant provision. The lower court also found that there was sufficient evidence that “the prayer hall and the dining hall would not be used by patrons at the same time.” Consequently, it also agreed with the board’s decision in that regard. When the objector appealed further, it was confronted with the Appellate Division’s concurrence with both the lower court and the planning board.

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