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Hoffman v. The City of Sea Isle City

A-7289-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)

ZONING; REZONING—The term “substantially consistent” permits some inconsistency, provided it does not substantially or materially undermine or distort the basic provisions and objectives of a municipality’s master plan.

A municipality owned a beach front lot that it used for many years for public restrooms and a life guard station. The lot was located within a two-family residential zone which did not permit public restrooms or life guard stations. Eventually, the municipality amended its zoning ordinance by rezoning this particular lot as “P-1 beach district.” In addition to permitting beach stabilization structures, pedestrian piers, open air public facilities, and the like, it specifically permitted “[e]nclosed public facilities, including, but not limited to restrooms, life guard stands and bandstands.” A neighboring landowner filed suit, alleging that the redistricting constituted “spot zoning.” Zoning regulations must be in accordance with a comprehensive plan to promote a specified statutory purpose. “The test is whether the zoning change in question is made with the purpose or effect of establishing or furthering a comprehensive zoning scheme calculated to achieve the statutory objectives or whether it is ‘designed merely to relieve the lot of the burden of the restriction of the general regulation by reason of conditions alleged to cause such regulation to bear with particular harshness upon it.’” If the rezoning is not designed to further a comprehensive zoning plan, then it is said to constitute “spot zoning.” Therefore, a court needs to ascertain “whether in view of the purposes of the zoning act the action of the [municipality] in rezoning [the subject lot(s)] represents sound judgment based on the policy of the statute ‘to advance the common good and welfare’ or whether it is arbitrary and unreasonable and furthers ‘purely private interests.’” Applying those principles, the Court concluded that rezoning the beach front lot did not constitute spot zoning. In doing so, it recognized the municipality’s historic use of the lot. The record indicated that the lot was well suited for its use as a public restroom and as a life guard facility. The zoning amendment “did not create an island of zoning anomaly in a sea of incompatible uses.” Use of the lot for public restrooms provided needed facilities, thereby promoting the general welfare.

The lower court determined that the planning board violated the Municipal Land Use Law by failing to send a report to the governing body identifying provisions in the proposed zoning amendment which were incompatible with the master plan. The Appellate Division, however, analyzed the record and concluded that the rezoning ordinance contained no conflict with the master plan which would have required such an analysis and report by the planning board. It found that the rezoning amendment was “substantially consistent” with the master plan. The term substantially consistent “permits some inconsistency, provided it does not substantially or materially undermine or distort the basic provisions and objective of the Master Plan.”


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