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Jost v. Vineland Zoning Board of Adjustment

A-4424-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; HARDSHIPS—Where a property owner sells one of two contiguous lots and the remaining lot is undersized, the remaining lot has not been zoned into idleness; rather, it has been sold into idleness.

A landowner sued a municipal zoning board after it denied his application for a variance to build a house on his lot. The landowner argued that “his proposed deviation from the requirements of the zoning ordinance” outweighed any detriment to the community and that the Board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.

The facts showed that the landowner owned two contiguous lots and later severed the common title by selling one of the lots. As a consequence of the sale, “a single family residence could not be built upon [the remaining lot] without relief from the zoning restrictions.”

The Appellate Division held that the remaining lot “was not zoned into idleness [but] ... was ‘sold into idleness.’” The Court therefore held that “the Board correctly denied the variance ... on the grounds that [the landowner’s] hardship was self-created.” In response to the landowner’s claim that because the two lots were part of an approved subdivision, the sale of one of the lots did not require subdivision approval, the Court held that “merger for subdivision purposes does not preclude a finding that the sale of one of two contiguous lots creates a self-created hardship for zoning purposes.” The Court also held that the “Board properly found that the variance would be a substantial detriment to the public good and would substantially impair the purpose of the zoning plan.” Finally, the Court held that “the Board did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that [the landowner’s] proposed construction of a single family dwelling on a significantly undersized lot would create the sort of dense over-development that is inconsistent with the agricultural character” of the zone. The Court was therefore satisfied that the Board’s finding provided an appropriate basis for denial of the variance under New Jersey law.

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