ML Plainsboro Limited Partnership v. Township of Plainsboro

316 N.J. Super. 200, 719 A.2d 1285 (App. Div. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: December 1, 1998

ZONING—A planning board can not dictate in perpetuity who can use, buy, own or rent properties as a single or multiple user.

An owner of a 275 acre parcel received certain approvals during the period from 1981 to 1983 for a single-user, owner-occupied corporate campus. In 1996, the owner applied to the Superior Court for a declaration of rights allowing it: (1) to use the land as a commercial hotel and conference training center open to the public for transient guests and third-party trainees and conferees, (2) to lease all or part of the land to commercial tenants that are not affiliated with the owner; and (3) to sell all or part of the land. The municipality opposed the relief insisting that the approvals granted from 1981 to 1983 were binding and that, according to the approval resolution, the only user of the property was to be the owner who had obtained the approvals. The record before the Appellate Division demonstrated that, absent the 1981 to 1983 approvals, the owner could use or sell the properties as a conference-center-hotel and for office purposes. Those uses were legal and permitted in the zone. In addition, those uses were quite characteristic of the surrounding area. It held that the approval resolutions from 1981 through 1983 had not attempted to restrict the use to the named owner specifically, or require planning board approval for a change of ownership. In addition, the Court ruled that a planning board could not dictate to perpetuity who could use, buy, own or rent properties as a single or multiple user. Of course, any changes in the nature of the use or the physical structures could legitimately implicate site plan or other code concerns under the local law, which would require planning board or other municipal approval.