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Maragliano v. Wantage Township Land Use Board

A-2778-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

ZONING; RSIS—Not all potentially applicable Residential Site Improvement Standards must be complied with, and a planning board has the discretion to treat minor subdivisions differently than major subdivisions when applying them.

A local land use board approved a landowner’s minor subdivision application. The approval allowed the owner to develop its thirty-acre lot by creating three, three-acre lots, leaving a remainder of twenty acres. The three new lots were to front on an unimproved municipality road that had drainage problems. Among the conditions imposed with the approval were improvements to the unimproved road and to its drainage system. In part, the drainage improvements required the owner to obtain an easement for a “scour hole” from the owners of a nearby lot and to reconfigure the existing road drainage system in the area of the owner’s property.

A neighbor objected to the application, voicing concerns over the minor subdivision’s impact upon drainage on the unimproved road. After the board approved the application, the neighbor appealed, claiming that the proposed development did not comply with the statewide Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS). The lower court rejected this contention, holding that because the application was for a minor subdivision, the RSIS standards did not apply.

The Appellate Division disagreed. RSIS do not draw a distinction between major and minor subdivisions. Rather, the RSIS govern any site improvements in connection with any application for residential subdivision before any planning board or zoning board of adjustment or in connection with any other residential development approval required or issued by any municipality or agency or instrumentality. The RSIS controls all matters of any site improvements in connection with residential development. The Court noted that, under the RSIS, a “developer” is defined as “the legal or beneficial owner or owners of a lot or of any land proposed to be included in a proposed development,” and a “development” is “the subdivision of a parcel of land into two or more parcels.” The definition of “subdivision” is “the division of a lot into two or more lots of land for sale or development.” While the definition of “subdivision” includes an exception for certain types of “divisions of land,” the Court held that minor subdivisions are not within that exception. Thus, the definitions do not draw a distinction between major and minor subdivisions.

The Court noted that this did not mean that all potentially applicable RSIS must be complied with, or that the planning board lacked discretion to treat minor subdivisions differently than major subdivisions when applying the RSIS. The street requirements of the RSIS would apply only if the municipal approving authority requires improvement of the existing street in connection with approval of the application. It is within the authority of the municipality to grant exceptions for minor subdivisions. In short, the standards act as a cap on what a municipality may require in connection with a minor subdivision application. A municipality is not, however, bound to require compliance with them.

Thus, because the municipality required improvements to the unimproved road in this case, both as to drainage and road surface, the RSIS standards were applicable. On the other hand, the board was not bound to require compliance and could grant exceptions as it deemed appropriate. Therefore, the Court remanded the lower court’s decision to the planning board for supplemental proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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