Estate of Kuchin v. The Township Council of the Township of Franklin

A-7356-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: November 5, 1999

ZONING—A rezoning ordinance can be valid even if it advances only one objective of the Municipal Land Use Law.

A municipality rezoned property from a higher to a lower residential density. This affected a property owner’s 33-acre tract. The tract was surrounded by residentially zoned areas. The landowner’s experts opined that the property was located in a general area where retail shopping, gasoline stations, restaurants, and some office and professional facilities existed. Other experts for the landowner testified that directly across the street from the subject property was an empty lot zoned for general retail commercial use. Further expert testimony submitted by the landowner suggested that a New Jersey State Redevelopment Plan placed the subject area into a region that was ripe for additional growth and development, but acknowledged that neither the county nor state plans were binding on the municipality under the Municipal Land Use Law. Another expert opined that the rezoning of the 33-acre tract was unreasonable due to its incompatibility with the existing and proposed land uses is in the area. Additional testimony was delivered by an expert in real estate appraisals who stated the subject property was not conducive to residential development on the larger size parcels required by the rezoning. “No ‛developer with any investment mind at all’ would find the property conducive to buy or sell.” The municipality provided the testimony of a professional planner who stated that the municipality concentrated its intense development toward the northeasterly portion of a major interstate highway and other “more urbanized and suburbanized areas.” An expert reviewed the revised Master Plan which triggered the zoning change and opined that the ordinance “is in fact a proper zoning of the property. There are goals formulated as part of the 1994 Master Plan that seek to provide a diversity of residential development, conserve rural characteristics and direct more intense development to areas that are serviced with utilities.” The municipality also called an expert in real estate appraisals who opined that there was a “very strong demand for expensive single-family houses on large lots” in the neighborhood of the subject lot, and that homes in that area sold rapidly. The lower court concluded that the property owner had not overcome the presumptive validity of the amendatory ordinance. It found unpersuasive the landowner’s expert’s grounds for finding the ordinance unreasonable due to the county and state envisioned development plans and the landowner’s efforts to demonstrate that the zoning ordinance amendment substantially depreciated the value of its property. On appeal, the landowner argued that the lower density residential zoning was incompatible with the uses on adjacent property, and the higher density residential uses adjacent to the subject property. It pushed its argument that the rezoning was incompatible with the projections within the state and county plans and that there was a substantial depreciation in value of lands caused by the zoning change. The Appellate Division pointed out that zoning ordinances are imbued with a presumption of validity that may be overcome only “if the opponent of the ordinance establishes the ordinance is ‛clearly arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or plainly contrary to the fundamental principles of zoning or the [zoning] statute.’” The Municipal Land Use Law articulates fifteen purposes of zoning. The municipality’s planning expert testified that the amending ordinance advanced five of those purposes. The landowner contended that one of those five purposes was not actually satisfied, but the Court held that “[n]ot every zoning ordinance can foster all of the purposes of zoning outlined in the” law. Case law requires only that an ordinance to advance one of the purposes of the Municipal Land Use Law. In addition, even though confiscatory implications arise when rezoning of a parcel of land substantially and irrationally reduces the economic utility of a parcel, there was no such implication here merely because the former zoning would have afforded a landowner a better economic return on development on its land.