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The Falls Group, LLC v. Township of Mount Laurel

A-4172-09T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

ZONING; AMUSEMENT PARKS — A commercially operated permanent structure with licensed amusement facilities is a recognized amusement park.

A company owned a twenty-five acre indoor and outdoor amusement facility in a municipality’s industrial zone. The zone permitted recreational structures and uses. All of its amusement rides were licensed by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs under the Carnival Amusement Rides Act (CARSA). The CARSA requires amusement rides in an amusement area or park to be licensed. In a prior litigated matter involving the facility, the lower court had held the facility was an amusement park subject to the CARSA.

The municipality adopted an ordinance prohibiting outdoor amusement facilities anywhere within its limits. By letter, the municipal zoning officer recognized the amusement facility as a pre-existing, non-conforming site. Several years after the letter, the company wanted to replace approximately fifty indoor games of chance with redemption games. These did not require licensure under the CARSA. The company first asked the municipality to enact, and then filed a formal application for, a corresponding ordinance so that the facility could obtain a municipal license for the new games. Both were denied. In response to the company filing for emergent relief, the lower court ordered the municipality to adopt an ordinance declaring the facility to be a recognized amusement park and stating the facility would then have the right to apply to the municipality for a license to replace the indoor games. The municipality argued that the facility did not prove it was a bona fide recognized amusement park because that would require proof that it was an accepted park. The municipality appealed, but the Appellate Division ruled against it, finding that there was a sufficient basis in the record for the lower court to conclude that the facility was a recognized amusement park under law, as it was undisputed its facility was a commercially operated permanent structure. The Court noted multiple letters from the business’s owner to the municipality discussing economic problems and the expected improvement in revenue and other economic benefits that enactment of a skill-based game ordinance would create. The letters also described the disadvantage the company had in competing with amusement facilities located in other municipalities where redemption gaming was permitted. Additionally, because of the prior litigation’s conclusion, there was no dispute that the primary purpose of the facility was to provide amusements licensed under the CARSA.

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