Krebs v. The City of Long Branch

A-2057-10T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: December 16, 2011

REDEVELOPMENT; STANDING —Unless a property owner takes action with respect to its property that leads to an adverse administrative finding by a municipality, the owner does not have a justiciable claim that its property should not be included within an area being designated as in need of redevelopment.

A buyer acquired property in an area already designated as being in need of redevelopment. The municipality adopted a resolution clarifying design guidelines for the redevelopment zoning in the property area. It specified that existing structures, not in conformity with the guidelines, could remain non-conforming, but any additions would have to comply with certain conditions. The municipality also adopted a resolution banning the use of eminent domain in developing the zone. The owner sued to challenge the resolution and ordinance. He sought a declaration that his property was “not blighted” or in need of redevelopment, and wanted an order vacating that designation. The municipality denied the allegations and asserted affirmative defenses including: the statute of limitations, laches, estoppel, and the property owner’s failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

The lower court granted the municipality’s motion, finding that the property owner lacked standing to sue because he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and also failed to raise an actual and justiciable claim. The property owner did not present any tangible evidence of any development plan that he was going to pursue. Since the property owner took no action with respect to his property that could have led to an adverse administrative finding by the municipality, he had no justiciable claim for adjudication and therefore lacked standing. The court rejected the property owner’s argument that there were no administrative remedies available to pursue beyond waiting until he expended funds to put together a very expensive application to the municipality and get turned down. It held that the property owner had to identify an adverse administrative determination upon which to base his challenge. Next, the lower court found that the property owner was not entitled to any relief based on procedural grounds because he filed his prerogative writs action beyond the forty-five time limit and he failed to raise “constitutional questions of important public interest such that an enlargement was warranted.”

In the owner’s appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the municipality and upheld the dismissal of the owner’s complaint for the reasons expressed by the lower court. It reiterated that the property owner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and failed to raise a justiciable claim because he failed to present tangible evidence of any development plans he pursued in connection with the property. Thus, the action was time barred, and his substantive challenges to the ordinance were unsupported by the law.