Skip to main content

Four Mile Branch Associates, LLC, v. Township of Monroe Planning Board

A-3870-04T5 (N.J. Super App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

ZONING; SUBDIVISION; VARIANCES—Where an applicant does not bifurcate an application into one for a subdivision and one for its requested variances, a denial of the subdivision serves to extinguish any of the variances that were to have been granted by the land use board.

In 2002, the owner of a large tract of land submitted an application for subdivision approval. The application contained copious requests for variances. Some, but not all, of the variance requests were granted. The subdivision application was denied. In 2003, the same landowner presented another subdivision application for the same tract of land. The planning board attorney advised the planning board that the variances granted in 2002 did not run with the land and were no longer valid, and that the landowner would need to reapply for those variances. The planning board denied each variance request (including those that were identical to the variances requested in 2002) and denied the 2003 subdivision application. The landowner filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the planning board’s determination that the 2002 variances were not valid for the 2003 subdivision application, and challenging the 2003 denial of the subdivision application as arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.

The lower court ruled that the 2002 variances were granted subject to the approval of the 2002 subdivision application. Holding that because the variance requests were only part of the 2002 subdivision application and because the subdivision application was not bifurcated, the lower court ruled that the grant of the 2002 variances did not survive the denial of the 2002 subdivision application. Finding each of the planning board’s decisions to be supported by the evidence in the record, the lower court held the planning board’s decision was neither arbitrary, capricious nor unreasonable. The landowner appealed further.

The Appellate Division held that, in general, a planning board is without authority to act on variance requests separate from a subdivision, site plan or conditional use application. Because the landowner did not avail itself of its statutory right to bifurcate its earlier subdivision application with one application for the needed variances contingent on approval of the second application for the subdivision itself, the decision of the planning board to deny the subdivision application operated to extinguish any otherwise approved variance requests. The Court further held that the 2003 subdivision application was not a bifurcation of the 2002 subdivision application. The 2003 application was neither a renewal of the 2002 application, nor was it a request for a reconsideration. The record established that the planned subdivision envisioned by the 2003 application was entirely different than the planned subdivision of the 2002 application. Therefore, the Court found that the 2003 subdivision application was its own independent subdivision application.

Further, the Court did not find any support for the landowner’s claim that the variances granted in 2002 ran with the land. According to it, the planning board’s decisions regarding the 2002 variance requests could only have been made while considering the 2002 subdivision application.

Further, the Court rejected the landowner’s claim that the planning board acted in an arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable manner. It held that a court must afford deference to a land use board’s expertise and discretion. Specifically, great deference is accorded decisions denying variance requests because variance approvals have the effect of impairing municipal zoning objectives. In addition, a court must not substitute its view of the application for that of a land use board, but should only determine whether the board’s action could be sustained. The Court held that simply because the planning board approved a variance request in 2002 and denied a similar request in 2003, there was insufficient proof to establish a claim that the planning board acted in an unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious manner. It found the planning board to have been concerned with the impact of the planned subdivision on the immediately adjacent developments, and declined to substitute its judgment for that of the planning board.

66 Park Street • Montclair, New Jersey 07042
tel: 973-783-3000 • fax: 973-744-5757 •