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Mori v. Hartz Mountain Industries, Inc.

2005 WL 2460118 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

MEADOWLAND COMMISSION; JURISDICTION—Where land is subject to the jurisdiction of the Meadowland Commission, the Commission has legislatively vested, mandated exclusive jurisdiction to review development plans for that land.

The owner of a tract of land within an area subject to the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (Commission) inherited it from his father. An adjacent property owner acquired the balance of the father’s land and developed the property into a project with office buildings, stores, and hotels. It constructed an extensive road system that connected with adjoining public streets. The son’s land remained undeveloped. A creek ran through it, making much of the land on both sides of the creek undevelopable wetlands. “The uplands portion of the tract, containing developable land [was] located at the short leg of the L and abut[ted] the New Jersey Turnpike.” The developed adjacent property abutted the uplands portion of the son’s land. When the developer obtained its approvals, the Commission required it to make its roads “open for general public use.” It required that the developer allow connection of one of its roads to an extension of that road, which would be built by the son so that the road could serve as a through road. The Commission also required public use of that particular road “as part of an enlarged common means of ingress and egress to [the public street] for both [the developer’s project] and the proposed development on the [son’s] tract.”

A time came when the Commission had development applications before it from both the developer (who had done work already) and from a different developer who was doing work on the son’s land. The Commission’s chief engineer wrote to each applicant pointing out the requirement in the earlier approvals that the developer allow its road to be part of an interconnecting roadway plan. The developer, who had already done substantial building, appealed the conditional approval granted to the project on the son’s land “[a]lthough it had never previously challenged the Commission’s earlier statements as to [its] obligations to permit [the son] to connect to its road system in developing the land.” The application for developing the son’s land was delayed for various reasons, but the developer who had already done work had its application approved. In that approval, although the Commission obligated the original developer to allow the son’s property to connect with one of the roads in the developer’s project, that developer had “no obligations pursuant to this condition until a ‘ready, willing and able’ owner/developer of the [son’s] property request[ed] the commencement of negotiations regarding” the connection. The son then went to the Law Division, seeking to have that court “declare his entitlement to connect to the existing [developer’s] roadway system and to do so without contributing to the cost of construction of those roads. [He] asserted two grounds to support his clamed [sic] right of connection: the prior declarations by the Commission and that he held an easement by necessity.”

In connection with his action, he filed a report from an engineer who had previously served as the Commission’s chief engineer. That report “expressed the opinion that the only way to achieve access to the developable portion of [the son’s] property was either through connection with the [developer’s] roadway or by constructing a bridge across” a creek. According to the engineer “environmental considerations made the latter a virtual impossibility.” The lower court declined to rule on those claims finding the claims to be within the jurisdiction of the Commission. It also ruled “as a matter of law that [the son] did not possess an easement by necessity and granted summary judgment, dismissing [the son’s] complaint.” On the son’s appeal, the Court was satisfied with the lower court’s decision. It held that “[t]he land in question [was] subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission, which is vested with the statutory power ‘to review and regulate plans for any subdivision or development within the [Commission’s] district, ..., and adopt and enforce codes and standards’ for such development.” Under such circumstances, the Legislature had “vested exclusive primary jurisdiction in an agency,” to wit, the Commission. Besides, the Court pointed out that the son did not have approval for the development proposal, “and he would thus still have had to return to the Commission for approval of specific plans and connections.” Further, it was undisputed that the son’s property had “more than 700 feet of frontage” on a public road. Therefore, by definition, the lot could not be considered landlocked. “Difficulty in obtaining access to the upland portion of the tract is not the equivalent of the parcel being landlocked.”

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