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Finishing Touch Landscape Construction, Inc. v. Borough of Pompton Lakes Zoning Bd. of Adj.

A-3769-02T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

ZONING; LIGHT MANUFACTURING; LIGHT INDUSTRIAL—In the zoning context, light manufacturing and light industrial each constitute the putting together of a product mix to result in a finished product.

A landscaper conducted its business from two leased parcels of property. The parcels were located in a zone that permitted limited manufacturing and light industrial operations. The local zoning officer denied the business a permit because the zone prohibited use of the land for service activities and construction storage. Specifically, the local ordinance only permitted “light manufacturing” and “light industrial” operations, and landscaping did not fall under those categories. The landscaper appealed, asking the local zoning board to reverse the officer’s findings and to grant approval for its current use.

The zoning board upheld the officer’s ruling, holding that the zone did not permit service businesses such as landscaping. Furthermore, the ordinance stated that any uses not specifically permitted were prohibited, and landscaping was not specifically mentioned as an acceptable use.

On appeal, the question before the lower court and the Appellate Division was: what constitutes “light manufacturing” and “light industrial”? The lower court first stated that deference must be given to local boards in determining this answer. Nonetheless, it went on to define the terms as meaning “the fabrication for commerce.” Specifically, “light manufacturing” or “light industrial” constitutes the putting together of a product mix to come out with a finished product. In contrast, landscaping is primarily a business of service: a landscaper goes to a site; grades the site; and puts a design on the site for railroad ties, for driveways, or for shrubbery. “It’s artistic in nature.” Therefore, it doesn’t constitute fabrication or the putting together of a product on the particular site where its own facility is located. As a result, the lower court held that the board’s decision to deny the permit because landscaping was not an acceptable use was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and the Appellate Division agreed.

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