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Herrontown Woods Citizens Association v. Regional Planning Board of Princeton

A-1820-06T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING; DELEGATION — A land use board, in granting approvals, can delegate the determination of conditions to other entities where such conditions involve only very specific, technical aspects of the development plan.

A developer submitted a preliminary major subdivision and site plan application. It wished to build out seven lots, each to contain a single family home. An eighth lot would serve as a stormwater retention basin. The project required clearing approximately fifty-five percent of the standing trees. The developer proposed that some of lost trees would be replaced through extensive replanting of canopy and understory trees. The site also contained wetlands; however, the developer’s stormwater management plan proposed to control the runoff through a series of drywells and an extensive detention basin. The developer proposed to use the existing public sewer and water system. Prior to hearings on the application, the developer met with the municipality’s sewer company seeking approval to construct a new sewer pumping station. The application conformed to all local ordinances but for two needed variances. The developer indicated at hearings that it had revised its plan and submitted amendments for review by the appropriate municipal professionals. After taking expert testimony, the board approved the application unanimously, subject to various identified conditions that would be reviewed by municipal professionals.

A neighborhood action group challenged the approval in the lower court, arguing that delegating conditions to other professionals violated the board’s review powers, and that the board had improperly considered the developer’s offer to fund a new sewer system when it considered the application. The lower court rejected these arguments, finding the record overwhelmingly established that more than sufficient information was before the board to support its approval. The court found each delegation was to review an aspect of the project that was solely technical in nature, the new sewer pump proposal had been severed from the development application, and approval was not conditioned on receiving money for the pump station. The group appealed.

The Appellate Division concurred with the lower court’s analysis and ruling. It held that the board’s determination was soundly grounded on the evidence and its approval of the feasibility of the plans was not improperly delegated to any other entity. The Court agreed that each delegation of review involved only very specific, technical aspects of the development plan. It did not view the construction of a new pumping station as integral to the development because its preliminary and final approvals were based on the existing infrastructure, which could adequately service the proposed homes. Therefore, the Court refused to invalidate the developer’s approvals.

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