New Jersey State League of Municipalities v. Department of Community Affairs

158 N.J. 211, 729 A.2d 21 (1999)
  • Opinion Date: May 13, 1999

ZONING; SITE STANDARDS—The administrative regulations promulgated pursuant to the Residential Site Improvement Standards Act are facially valid.

This was an appeal challenging regulations promulgated by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) pursuant to the Residential Site Improvement Standards Act. Pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), municipalities are authorized to adopt zoning ordinances and to adopt their own set of standards for physical improvements. Apparently, this led to inconsistent requirements and a lack of uniformity in site improvement standards. Consequently, the Legislature enacted the Residential Site Improvements Standards Act which authorized the establishment of a uniform set of technical site improvement standards for streets, roads, parking facilities, sidewalks, drainage structures, and utilities. Those uniform standards were to “supercede any such site improvement standards incorporated within the development ordinances of any municipality.” A separate provision of that Act states that “nothing contained in [the Act] shall in any way limit the zoning power in any municipality.” In accordance with the Act, the DCA Commissioner, after taking appropriate procedural steps, promulgated regulations, whereupon a large number of municipalities and other parties appealed their adoption. Basically, the appeal relied on the language which stated that nothing in the regulations “shall in any way limit” the zoning powers of municipalities. In essence, the municipalities argued that where a standard in the regulations conflicted with a requirement in a municipal zoning ordinance, the ordinance should supercede the standard. The Superior Court held that the regulations promulgated by the DCA were facially valid. Its reasoning was that administrative regulations are accorded a presumption of validity. Further, the Legislature’s grant of express authority to an administrative agency is deemed to include the incidental authority necessary to effectuate fully the legislative intent. Although the Court recognized that basic local zoning policy is best left to the individual municipalities, the only powers that the municipalities have to zone are those that the Legislature has delegated to them. The Court also recognized that although the plain language of the statute might support the municipalities’ argument, it was clear that the Legislature intended to authorize the DCA to promulgate the regulations. That intent is explicitly stated in the Act; consequently any inconsistency in the Act was to be resolved in accordance with the legislative intent. Further, municipalities always have the right to make an “as-applied” challenge to the validity of any particular standard, and such a procedure would serve to cure any objection that a municipality might have to the regulations as a whole.