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Metro Assets I, LLC v. Planning Board of the Borough of Ridgefield

A-3261-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING; USE VARIANCES — Where an applicant has previously obtained a decree that its business is a permitted use within the zone where its property is located, a land use board may not require a use variance for an expansion of the applicant’s business.

A truck repair business located on two adjacent lots previously obtained a judicial determination that it had the right to operate an automobile service/garage business in a zone permitting commercial and hotel uses. The business received site plan approval and bulk variance relief from the planning board. With those approvals, it could construct a new repair building with storage, office space, and parking, at its present location, after demolishing its existing facilities and merging the lots. Various experts testified that these upgrades would improve the site. A competitor, who owned an adjacent lot, challenged the planning board’s jurisdiction to approve parking as one of the uses. A lower court found that the planning board’s action, approving the site plan application, was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.

On appeal, the Appellate Division began by stating that its review is limited to determining whether a planning board has followed the local zoning ordinances and properly exercised its discretion. In response to the jurisdiction challenge, the Court first noted that parking was attendant to the lawful use of a truck repair business and therefore did not require a use variance which otherwise could only be granted by the municipality’s board of adjustment. The competitor had also argued that use of the property as an automobile service and garage facility required a conditional use variance from the board of adjustment. As to this claim, the Court noted that the issue had already been settled by its previous judicial determination that the business was permitted in the zone where its property is located.

The Court also upheld, as reasonable, the planning board’s findings to the effect that the variances would result in a use more serviceable and aesthetically pleasing than its present condition. In sum, the Court held that the planning board decision was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable because there was sufficient evidence and that there was a rational basis for its decision.

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