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New York Life Insurance Co. v. Township of Clinton

HNT-L-240-04 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; PREEMPTION—A municipal zoning ordinance is not preempted by the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act unless the municipal ordinance regulates wetland area development.

A municipality’s governing council adopted an ordinance which amended the municipality’s zoning ordinance regarding the permitted floor area ratio for nonresidential properties and the permitted density for major residential developments. The amendment provided that certain environmental constraints, such as wetlands, were to be excluded when calculating the floor area ratio of a property. The amendment greatly affected the developmental potential of properties containing large portions of wetlands. The owner of a property that contained a large amount of wetlands filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs alleging that the ordinance was preempted by the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act. The owner argued that the Act preempted all local laws, regulations, and ordinances regulating wetlands. The owner also asserted that the Act preempted the entire field of wetlands. The municipality moved for summary judgment.

The Law Division granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality ruling that preemption did not apply because the ordinance did not conflict with the Act. It held that the Act serves to regulate activities within wetland areas and that the zoning ordinance did not conflict with the Act because it excluded wetlands from the floor area ratio of a property and consequently did not regulate or impose restrictions on the wetland areas. The Court further held that the Act did not preempt the entire field of wetlands because there was no evidence that the Legislature intended for the Act to exclusively occupy the field.

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