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New Hope Baptist Church v. Planning Board of the City of Hackensack

A-4250-03T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; VARIANCES; RESTRICTIONS —A bald faced proposition by a land use board that an otherwise reasonable restriction to be imposed in connection with the grant of a variance would be unenforceable is an arbitrary and capricious decision and can be overturned by a court.

A block association appealed a lower court’s reversal of a municipal planning board’s denial of a church’s application for a parking variance. At trial, the church promised “to abide by a restriction against simultaneous use of the [c]hurch sanctuary and the multi-purpose room”—a restriction which “was designed to ensure that the [c]hurch would never” need more parking spaces than the number it proposed to construct. The board contended that such a restriction would be impossible to enforce and argued that this was a reason to reject the church’s application.

The lower court ruled that the board’s decision lacked proper fact findings or evidentiary support, concluding that “there was no competent evidence on the record to support the [b]oard’s conclusion that granting the [church’s] application would destroy the character of the neighborhood or disrupt pedestrian traffic.” On appeal, the block association contended that the lower court erred in reversing the board’s decision because the board would be unable to enforce a restriction against simultaneous use of the church sanctuary and the multi-purpose room.

The Appellate Division held that New Jersey law permits a municipal planning board to grant a variance where (1) the purposes of the Municipal Land Use law would be advanced by a deviation from the ordinance requirements; and (2) the benefits of the deviation would substantially outweigh the detriments. Additionally, the Court held that the key to sound municipal decision-making is a clear statement of reasons for the grant or denial of a variance, and the board’s resolution was inadequate since it did not cite evidence in the record, but merely provided factual findings that were general and conclusory.

The Court therefore found no merit whatever in the board’s bald assertion that the restriction would not be enforceable. The Court agreed with the lower court’s conclusion “that the [b]oard’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and that the [b]oard waived its opportunity to impose site plan conditions by failing to act promptly on remand.”

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