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Interverse Enterprises, Inc. v. Township of Mount Olive

A-4512-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION — When reviewing a zoning ordinance, a court must determine whether the requirements of the ordinance are reasonable and meet the objectives behind the ordinance.

A developer owned farms and lots of vacant land. Part of the land contained forest and vegetation, and was classified by the state as an endangered woodland. Another part of the property was classified by the state redevelopment plan as a special resource area. According to the municipality’s master plan, the property was zoned for residential use. This zone permitted the construction of one unit per acre and cluster development with a thirty-five percent open space set aside. The municipality then adopted a land use plan amendment to preserve open space within the municipality. The amendment created two new zoning districts. The developer’s property was placed in the new zone. The new zone placed new restrictions on the company’s use of the land. It permitted only one unit per five acres and cluster development was allowed with a twenty-five percent open space set aside. As a result, the developer challenged the validity of the zoning ordinance, asserting it was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. It further contended that, under the ordinance, its property had been rezoned to diminish the value of the property in order for the municipality to acquire it. The lower court rejected the developer’s claim and entered a final judgment in favor of the municipality.

The developer appealed, claiming that there was no justification for rezoning its property for farmland preservation purposes because there was little farming activity on the property. It also argued that the property contained no significant environmental constraints to warrant its placement in the new zone. Lastly, it asserted that the new zone was underinclusive because it did not contain all of the municipality’s farmland, and it failed to place similarly situated properties in the zone.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. It held that a municipal zoning ordinance may be set aside only if it is shown to be arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. A zoning ordinance is presumed to be valid, and this presumption can only be overcome by proof that the ordinance is clearly arbitrary or contrary to fundamental zoning principles. The Court held that when reviewing a zoning ordinance, a court must determine whether the requirements of the ordinance are reasonable and meet the goals of the objective behind the ordinance. After applying these principles, the Court found that the purpose of the new ordinance was to preserve a rural, agricultural, and low density residential pattern of development. It also sought to preserve the presence of environmental constraints, such as steep slopes, wetlands, and water plains. Although the developer’s property did not contain significant environmental constraints, the Court found that the purpose of the ordinance was not limited to preserving environmental constraints. It found that the goal of the ordinance was to protect environmentally sensitive areas, such as the property at issue. The Court also rejected the developer’s assertion that the ordinance was underinclusive because it did include all of the municipality’s farmland in the new zone. It held that farmland preservation was not the only goal of the ordinance, and therefore it could not be invalidated on the basis that all of the municipality’s farmland had not been rezoned.


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