Gallo v. Mayor and Township Council of Lawrence Township

328 N.J. Super. 117, 744 A.2d 1219 (App. Div. 2000)
  • Opinion Date: February 10, 2000

ZONING; NOTICE—When rezoning discussions result from a general reexamination of a municipality’s master plan, no individualized notice need be sent to neighboring property owners each time a contemplated change to a zoning plan is discussed.

The 1995 amendments to the protest provisions of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) provided for notice of zoning classification and boundary changes to those property owners located within two hundred feet of the boundaries of the district subject to the changes but exempted from the notice provisions “classification or boundary changes recommended in a periodic general reexamination of the master plan by the planning board pursuant to” N.J.S. 40:55D-89. Here, the municipality’s planning board began the reexamination of its master plan which statute requires at least every six years. The planning board gave public notice and proceeded to conduct twenty-four “work” meetings over a period of about two and a half years. Following the conclusion of its working sessions, the planning board, on notice to the public, held public hearings on the adoption of its master plan. The revised master plan was adopted. After some revisions to the plan, the municipality’s governing council introduced it for a first reading and a public hearing. At the second reading, some of the municipality’s citizens challenged the council’s right to adopt the revised ordinance, claiming that they had not been personally served with notice of a proposed change in zoning of the area adjacent to their property. It was undisputed that the required general notice had been given, but personal notice had not been given to residents located within two hundred feet of a particular newly created zone. The council adopted the ordinance, after concluding that the objectors were not entitled to such personal notice. In this first interpretation of the 1995 amendments, the Court looked at the specific language utilized by the Legislature and at what commentators had said about the change. Citing a treatise by William M. Cox, the Court said: “Zoning changes, if made on the basis of a re-examination report from the Planning Board, may be enacted without complying with the notice requirements of” the statute. Another commentator was cited as saying, “[w]here a change in zoning classification or the boundaries of a zoning district results from a recommendation in a periodic general re-examination of the master plan by the planning board, no notice need be given.” The Court believed that the Legislature clearly meant what it said. Where there is strictly an amendment to an ordinance, “compliance with statutory procedures will generally be time restricted and may well involve public involvement resulting from the specific notice required by the statutes. On the other hand, the master plan review envisioned by [this particular statute] involves, as is demonstrated here, extensive public review and analysis by consultants and experts, hearings, general public notice, and in most cases, extensive publicity and notoriety.” The Court believed that “the Legislature was keenly aware of the distinction between the two separate processes, and did not perceive it necessary to require that each property owner affected by a master plan change and zoning change be notified.” Further, the Court found a more practical consideration. The continuous review process involves “tinkering” and adjusting the master plan and, ultimately, the proposed zoning ordinance. “This is dynamic process which may involve hundreds of changes, some major and some minor, during a deliberative and review process. To require individualized and personal notice to those within two hundred feet each time such change is contemplated or proposed would be counterproductive and would essentially stall the review process.”