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Mahwah Realty Associates, Inc. v. Township of Mahwah

420 N.J. Super. 341, 21 A.3rd 643 (App. Div. 2011)

ZONING; ORDINANCES — Where the minutes of a municipal council’s meeting memorialize the council’s adoption of a zoning ordinance, and those minutes explain the counsel’s reasons for its determinations, they will be considered sufficient to meet the requirements under law for adoption of ordinances even if those reasons are not expressed in the adopting resolution.

A municipality introduced an ordinance adding health and fitness centers as a conditional use in its industrial park zone. The next day, the municipal clerk sent the ordinance to the planning board with a request for comments. Notices of public hearings and the entire text of the proposed ordinance were published in a local newspaper. The municipal clerk sent notice of the public hearing by certified mail to all property owners in the affected zoning districts, all property owners within 200 feet of those zoning districts, as well as all others entitled to notice. The planning board found that the ordinance was inconsistent with the master plan, but nevertheless provided needed services to the residents. Consequently, the planning board recommended its adoption and sent a memorandum of comments to the mayor and municipal council.

The municipality held a public hearing at which it adopted the zoning ordinance. At the same time, the municipality adopted a resolution listing the reasons for its action. The resolution memorialized the municipality’s recognition that even though the ordinance was inconsistent with the master plan, it should be adopted anyway because it would allow for uses consistent with the uses that historically had been permitted by variances; there existed a variety of service-related uses in the zones, including a fitness and health club, a gymnasium center, and a dance academy, all of which had been determined to be compatible and appropriate uses; there were buildings in the zones sufficiently large in size to be appropriately used to accommodate health and wellness center and fitness and health club uses; the location of the zones would allow the public the opportunity to take advantage of a wide variety of multi-disciplinary health, fitness, and wellness services within facilities in centralized and accessible districts; the uses would promote the health, safety, morals, and general welfare; and health and wellness centers were a new and unique use neither envisioned nor current at the time of adoption of the municipality’s master plan or zoning ordinance.

A challenger filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs alleging, among other things, that the zoning ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable; inconsistent with the master plan; and not in compliance with the requirements for adoption of inconsistent ordinances. The municipality moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that the municipality complied with the applicable procedural requirements in adopting the ordinance. The lower court instead granted the challenger’s cross-motion for summary judgment, finding that state law unambiguously required that the reasons for adopting the ordinance be recorded in the minutes pursuant to discussions at the hearing, in addition to being set forth in the resulting resolution. Because the municipal council members failed to discuss the reasons for passing the zoning ordinance during the hearing and did not record those reasons in the minutes, the lower court held that the challenger was entitled to judgment, as a matter of law, declaring the ordinance null, void and of no force and effect.

In its appeal that followed, the municipality argued that the lower court had erred in granting summary judgment and in compelling the depositions of the mayor, council members, and planning board members. The Appellate Division held that the lower court’s interpretation of state law mistakenly put municipalities to a burden likely unintended by the legislature. The minutes memorialized the council’s adoption of the resolution, which explained the council’s reasons for its determination; thus, the minutes were sufficient to meet the requirements for inconsistent ordinances. Last, the Court found that the lower court’s discovery orders were overly broad and unnecessarily intrusive because they inquired into the municipal officials’ medical treatments without a clear showing that any of these municipal officials has a personal or financial interest in the treating facility.

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