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First Presbyterian Church at Red Bank v. Red Bank Zoning Board of Adjustment

A-1293-01T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

ZONING; VARIANCES—Even a house of worship must show that its requested dimensional variances do not adversely affect neighboring properties and are consistent with the zoning plan.

A church sought approval of a major expansion to accommodate its growing religious services and programs, as well as its day care and lower school. The municipality’s zoning board denied the church’s request for the variances required to build the addition. The church appealed to the lower court which affirmed the board’s denial of the variances. The church appealed again. The Appellate Division agreed with the board’s conclusion that the church failed to satisfy the positive criteria. In order to satisfy the positive criteria the church needed to show that the expansion benefitted the general public and that the site was suitable for the proposed expansion. The Court found ample evidence in the record to support the board’s conclusion that the property was not suited for the major expansion the church proposed. It noted that the proposed expansion increased the lot coverage that was already above the limit set forth in the zoning code. It also noted that the increased lot coverage, additional set back encroachments, and violation of the height requirements supported the board’s contention that the property was not suitable for the proposed expansion. The Court also found that the board properly considered both prongs of the negative criteria, the negative impact on the neighbors and the inconsistency with the current zoning plan. The board had found that the project negatively impacted a neighboring housing development and that the size of the project was inconsistent with the zoning limits on the size of conditional uses in a residential zone. On the other had, the Court reversed the board’s determination that the church required a set back variance. It found that the church’s buildings and parking lot were constructed in the 1950’s and 1960’s in accordance with the then current codes. It only violated the required standards because of later imposed conditions. Therefore, the structures were deemed to legal, non-conforming structures and could continue without a variance.

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