Skip to main content



Lincoln North Development Corporation v. Town of Kearny

2006 WL 1195505 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ORDINANCES—To overcome the presumption of validity of a zoning ordinance, an objector must demonstrate that the ordinance is clearly arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or plainly contrary to fundamental zoning principles; further, there is no constitutional right to the most profitable use of land.

A municipal governing body passed an ordinance prohibiting the permanent storage of trucks, except as permitted, in the northern section of the municipality (its SKI-N zone) as a conditional use subject to site plan approval. A local business association sought to invalidate the ordinance. If a party challenging the validity of an ordinance presents evidence that could support a finding that the ordinance violates the zoning principles of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), then an evidentiary hearing must be held to allow the challenger and the municipality an opportunity to present expert testimony relevant to determining the ordinance’s validity. A zoning ordinance must satisfy certain objective criteria. It must: (1) advance one of the purposes of the MLUL; (2) be substantially consistent with the land use plan element and the housing plan element of a master plan (unless those requirements have already been satisfied); (3) comport with constitutional constraints on zoning power (including due process, equal protection, and the prohibition on confiscation); and (4) have been adopted according to statutory and municipal procedural requirements. Any challenge to the presumed validity of a zoning ordinance must demonstrate that the ordinance is clearly arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or plainly contrary to fundamental zoning principles. The business association presented an expert witness who criticized: the irregular shape of the affected zone; the impact the ordinance had by creating non-conforming motor freight uses; and the improper omission of properties from the affected zone resulting in an arbitrary and capricious zone boundary. Because the business association had presented such evidence, the Court ruled it was entitled to a plenary hearing as to whether: the ordinance created an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable attempt to regulate land use; the ordinance bore a substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose; and whether the municipality exceeded its police powers through the imposition of unnecessary and excessive restrictions on the use of private property. The Court found that the record, as established to that point, was capable of resolving the remaining counts without a plenary hearing.

As to the claim the ordinance represented a taking of property without just compensation, the association needed to prove the ordinance did not advance a legitimate state interest and it denied the landowner of any economically viable use of the land. There is no constitutional right to the most profitable use of land, and a presumption of validity attached to all ordinances. Thus, the municipality could advance several legitimate state interests, including: balancing truck terminals with other uses of land to accommodate planned improvements and anticipated growth; increasing tax ratables based on other uses of the land; creating new jobs on otherwise dormant land; and improving aesthetics. Those truck terminals already in use in the SKI-N zone would continue their use, and those truck terminals in other zones could continue as legal non-conforming pre-existing uses. The Court found that the landowners could still make economic use of their land. Thus, it dismissed that portion of the complaint that alleged an improper taking.

The association further claimed the ordinance violated the contracts clause of the federal Constitution. To be invalid on those grounds an ordinance must cause a substantial impairment of an existing contractual relationship. If such an impairment exists, the ordinance might still be valid if it serves a legitimate governmental purpose and if the adjustment of the rights of the contracting parties caused by the ordinance is reasonably related to the government’s interest. Because the Court found that these landowners could still continue their operations as legal non-conforming pre-existing uses, the ordinance did not interfere with their contractual obligations. Thus, the Court dismissed this claim.

As to the claim that the ordinance violated the federal Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, the Court inquired if it discriminated against interstate commerce. If an ordinance burdens out-of-state vehicles in favor of in-state vehicles, then a municipality must prove that the ordinance serves a legitimate local purpose and that the purpose could not be served by nondiscriminatory means. Where the burden on interstate commerce is only incidental and the restriction warranted by local needs, the ordinance is valid. Here, the Court found the ordinance did not impose a burden on interstate commerce, and therefore dismissed this count of the complaint.

The business owners further claimed that the ordinance violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Equal protection claimants must be part of a protected group, and must be singled out as members of that group for purposeful discrimination. Because the Court found that the trucking industry is not a protected class, nor does trucking affect a fundamental right, the ordinance was not subject to heightened scrutiny. Instead, it is analyzed the ordinance under a “rational basis” test, namely that the ordinance must bear a rational relationship to an important governmental interest. The Court further found that the ordinance served important government objectives such as advancing aesthetics, creating jobs, accommodating planned improvements, and increasing tax ratables. Therefore, this claim was dismissed.

The business association further claimed that the ordinance was inconsistent with the municipal master plan and failed to satisfy the requirements of the MLUL. Again, a valid ordinance must: (1) advance one of the purposes of municipal land use law; (2) be substantially consistent with the land use plan element and the housing plan element of a master plan (unless those requirements have already been satisfied); (3) comport with constitutional constraints on zoning power; and (4) have been adopted according to statutory and municipal procedural requirements. Here, the Court found the ordinance advanced at least the following four purposes of the MLUL: (I) encouraging appropriate land use in a manner consistent with promoting the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare; (ii) providing sufficient space for a variety of uses in order to meet the needs of the citizenry; (iii) promoting a desirable visual environment; and (iv) promoting coordination among public and private concerns to lower the cost of development and to make more efficient use of land. The Court also found the ordinance to be consistent with the municipality’s master plan. Thus, the claim was dismissed.

The Court also dismissed the allegation that the municipality failed to provide adequate notice of the planning board meetings concerning the municipality’s master plan review. It also found that the issue was time-barred, and even if it were not, the business association had representation at the planning board meeting and had an opportunity to voice its objections. When adopting an ordinance, a governing body must introduce the proposed legislation at a first reading; then publish notice of a public hearing; then submit the proposed ordinance to the planning board for review; and then consider the ordinance for adoption after a second reading. In this case, the Court found the municipality properly fulfilled each of these requirements and therefore dismissed the business association’s claim of procedural deficiencies. As to the claim that the subject matter of the ordinance was preempted by the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, the business association needed to show either that federal law entirely preempted the subject matter; or that compliance with both the local regulation and the federal law was impossible. In this regard, the Court found that the subject matter of the ordinance was not specifically reserved by the federal law for preemption; and that the ordinance did not prevent local businesses from complying with the federal law. For those reasons, this claim was dismissed. Lastly, because the Court found that the ordinance did not affect railroad operations, it could not be preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, and the Court dismissed this claim.


MEISLIK & MEISLIK
66 Park Street • Montclair, New Jersey 07042
tel: 973-783-3000 • fax: 973-744-5757 • info@meislik.com