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Leisuretowne Association, Inc. v. Township of Southampton

A-3787-06T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

MUNICIPALITIES; DEDICATION — In a dispute over whether private property has been accepted by a municipality entity, it is the burden of the property owner to establish the property’s dedication.

An age-restricted development, built for senior homeowners, consisted of eleven sections. It contained eight lakes, seven of which were man-made and created from a naturally occurring stream. The lakes were part of the development’s common property and were owned by the developer. The municipality benefitted from easements including a drainage easement for storm water management. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) informed the municipality that inspections were required for a dam that held one of the lakes. The municipality asserted that the development’s homeowners association owned both the lake and the dam. In the dispute between the association and the municipality, a settlement required the municipality to pay for repairs to the dam and both parties agreed to split the cost of future inspections. A subsequent suit between the developer and the municipality over further development was settled, but there was no resolution as to who was the lake’s owner.

The homeowners association sued the municipality, seeking to dedicate all of the development’s man-made lakes to the municipality. The association also sought a declaration that the municipality was responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing the dams. The lower court found that the municipality was not responsible for maintenance of the dams and that a particular lake with a boat ramp was owned by the developer until accepted by the municipality. The lower court granted the association’s request that the public be barred from using this lake.

On appeal, the Appellate Division pointed out that in a dispute over whether private property has been accepted by a municipal entity, it was the burden of the property owner to establish the property’s dedication. It found that the municipality had no obligation to assume responsibility for the lake (with the dam) since the lake and its related dam were both constructed by the developer for the development’s benefit and since the municipality did not create the conditions that caused its own roadways to drain into the dam. The Court found that the easement for the municipality’s drainage pipes and inlets did not create an explicit or implicit acceptance of the lake or the dams or responsibility for the development’s lakes and dams to the municipality. The lower court’s granting of the association’s request that the public be barred from use of the boat ramp in one lake was affirmed. The Court found that since the association withdrew its claim that the municipality should assume ownership of the lake with boat access and alternatively sought an order barring that lake from public use, the question of whether the municipality should assume responsibility for that lake had not been fully adjudicated and the lower court was correct not to dismiss the claim. Based on its findings and conclusions, the Court affirmed the lower court’s decision declaring that the developer was the owner of the lakes in the development and that the municipality was not responsible for their maintenance. The lower court’s decision not to dismiss the association’s withdrawn claim regarding the municipality’s responsibility for the lake with boat access was also affirmed.


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