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Manzo v. The Mayor and Township Council of the Township of Marlboro

2003 WL 22532882 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003)

ZONING; ORDINANCES—Even if a restrictive zoning ordinance is adopted for a proper purpose, as a court must assume in the first instance, it is still necessary that the means employed by the ordinance has some legitimate relationship to that purpose.

A property owner owned 167 acres of land in a municipality. The property was divided into quadrants by a confluence of streams and drainage ways that flowed through the property into a brook and ultimately into a reservoir that supplied potable water to other municipalities. Until 1999, the property had been zoned for 30,000 square foot lots, consistent with other properties in the area. In 1999, the municipality created the Stream Corridor Preservation Residential District II (SCPR II) which required minimum lot sizes of 80,000 square feet, but allowed for some cluster zoning. The owner challenged the validity of the zoning ordinance, claiming that: (a) it was inconsistent with the municipality’s master plan; (b) it represented fiscal zoning; (c) it improperly reduced density of residential development; and (d) the means used by the municipality to achieve its zoning goals were unreasonable. The owner claimed that, while the municipality’s goal to preserve environmentally sensitive areas from over-development was laudable, it was merely a pretext to limit the number of households in the municipality and protect the municipality’s coffers. It argued that the municipality’s real purpose in limiting residential development was to save money. Additional homes and residents would be an additional burden on the municipality in terms of municipal services (i.e., police, schools, garbage collection, snow removal, etc.). The lower court rejected the owner’s claims. It noted that, as a starting point, a court must presume that a municipal ordinance was adopted for a proper purpose. It also noted that the master plan, town planner’s notes, and minutes of the town council meetings all demonstrated that the municipality’s purpose was proper and consistent with the zoning plan and the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). Under the MLUL, municipalities must enact land-use regulations to protect potable water supply reservoirs from pollution or degradation. The owner’s property, which was sloped and divided by streams flowing into a brook that fed a reservoir, was an environmentally sensitive property. Unrestricted development of the property could negatively impact the reservoir and the general public. Non-point pollution emanating from residential developments (such as road salt, oil, and fertilizers) could be detrimental to the reservoir. Lower density development, and cluster development, would reduce the possible pollution of the reservoir. The owner claimed, that, even if the stated purpose of the ordinance was proper, the means chosen by the municipality to protect the reservoir and water supply did not have a legitimate relationship to that purpose. The owner further claimed that the municipal planner could not cite any study showing that lowering density development is an effective means toward protecting water supplies. The lower court noted that both the municipality’s expert and the owner’s expert gave varying opinions regarding the effect of lower density developments, but neither had provided studies conclusively showing, that its opinion was correct. The lower court viewed it as a toss up. In a case where the evidence could point either way, it could not be claimed that the municipality was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Therefore, it upheld the zoning ordinance. However, it required the municipality to amend its ordinance to allow cluster development in environmentally sensitive areas of the SCPR II zone. The Appellate Division affirmed.

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