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Hertz v. Borough of Lincoln Park

A-4838-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

ZONING; RIGHT TO FARM ACT — An otherwise valid zoning ordinance may have as its purpose the objective of permitting the operation of commercial farms and the conduct of farming activity in conformance with the Right to Farm Act.

A property owner sued its municipality, challenging the validity of an ordinance that had amended the municipality’s zoning legislation to permit the operation of commercial farms and farming activity in conformance with the Right to Farm Act (RTFA). The owner claimed the ordinance contravened provisions of the Farmland Assessment Act (FAA). She also claimed the municipality had interfered with past and prospective property rights pursuant to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the federal Civil Rights Act, and that she was entitled to relief for inverse condemnation based on constitutional violations. The lower court dismissed the case.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed. It held that a municipality’s zoning ordinance is presumed valid and the presumption may only be overcome by a showing that the ordinance is clearly arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or plainly contrary to fundamental principles of zoning or the state’s zoning statute. A court will not question the wisdom of an ordinance, and if the ordinance is debatable, it must be upheld. The fundamental question in all zoning cases is whether the ordinance’s requirements are “reasonable under the circumstances.” Here, the Court found that the purpose of the ordinance was to foster consistency with the RTFA and held that the property owner had failed to demonstrate how the municipal ordinance conflicted with the operation of the FAA. Further, it found the record was barren of any evidence that the property owner’s grievances were cognizable under the LAD. As for violations of the federal Civil Rights Act, the Court noted that the property owner failed to provide evidence of any circumstance to which the federal legislation was intended to apply. Lastly, it concluded that the property owner’s inverse condemnation assertion was without merit and conclusory in nature.

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