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Mount Laurel Township v. Mipro Homes, L.L.C.

L-1745-02 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2003), Unpublished (Unpublished)

EMINENT DOMAIN—For a municipality to take land by eminent domain, it must show that there is a public need and allege that there is a need to stop development should be supported by the provisions of the municipality’s master plan.

A property owner challenged a municipality’s attempt to condemn its property. The municipality granted the owner’s application for preliminary and final subdivision approval to build a residential development. Shortly thereafter, the municipality adopted a resolution authorizing an application for Open Space Preservation Funding. It then adopted an ordinance authorizing the purchase of the owner’s property based on its qualification for a Green Acres Incentive Grant Program within the New Jersey Preservation Trust. The ordinance included a determination that the property was under severe development pressure, was the subject of a major subdivision application, and was within the municipality’s open space inventory. The owner challenged the municipality’s power to condemn its property. The owner claimed that there was no present or reasonably foreseeable need for the property for any specific public purpose. The owner further claimed that the municipality’s master plan indicated that the municipality had sufficient open space and that its only reason for condemning the property was in response to public pressure to curb residential development. The municipality claimed that taking properties under development to preserve the land in perpetuity and stopping development is a legitimate basis for a taking. The owner argued that grant program and preservation trust program were funding mechanisms available to municipalities to purchase open space from willing sellers, but were not to be used to condemn properties to prevent development under the guise of conservation. The Court granted the owner’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the municipality had no legitimate purpose for condemning the property. It found that the municipality’s primary goal was to stop residential development to save tax dollars that would be incurred for educational and other municipal services if more residential units were built. The Court noted that the municipality could have re-evaluated its master plan to limit residential development. Instead, it abused its power of eminent domain by purchasing properties to prevent development. It also noted that while the municipality claimed it needed to preserve open space, the master plan did not indicate a need for more open space.

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