Borough of North Plainfield v. Watchung Square Associates, L.L.C.

A-1985-97T3 and A-2071-97T3 and A-2099-97T3 and A-3580-97T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: March 9, 1999

ZONING; SPOT ZONING—A zoning ordinance amendment that is consistent with the Master Plan and which reasonably can be found to advance the public interest is not spot zoning even if it conflicts with the needs and interests of a municipality abutting the rezoned district.

A neighboring municipality and some taxpayers challenged land use actions taken by an adjacent municipality and its planning board permitting development of a 73 acre regional shopping center. The tract in question was originally in a light-industrial zone. After the property became blighted, the municipality, on recommendation from its zoning board, rezoned it by placing it in an existing highway development zone in which shopping centers were a permitted use if they were located on a lot of at least ten acres. Subsequently, because the municipality recognized the need to impose controls on a project as large and complicated as a regional shopping center, it updated its Master Plan to require a regional shopping center containing at least 750,000 gross square feet to have a minimum lot size of seventy acres. In addition, it specified allowable uses, setbacks, floor-area ratios, parking requirements, and other bulk limitations. The neighboring municipality and the taxpayers argued that the amendment to the Master Plan constituted spot zoning. The Appellate Division, in concurring with the lower court, said that, by definition, spot zoning is an exercise of the zoning power by which a parcel of land, for the exclusive benefit of its owners, is singled out in order to relieve it of the burden of the general land-use regulations that the comprehensive zoning plan would otherwise impose. Therefore, if a zoning ordinance amendment derives from, and is consistent with, the comprehensive plan as illuminated by the Master Plan and if it can reasonably be found to advance the public interest by serving the zoning desiderata of the Municipal Land Use Law, it cannot be regarded as spot zoning. The Appellate Division found that the change of the tract from a light-industrial to a highway development zone was procedurally regular and substantively consistent with the comprehensive plan. Consequently, the later amendment was also entirely free from any spot-zoning taint. It did not relieve this particular parcel of general land-use regulations, but imposed additional regulations. While the Court understood the objector’s legitimate concerns with the impact that a regional shopping center may have on a neighboring municipality and upon the residents of both municipalities, it was persuaded that the municipality in which the shopping center was located and its planning board were keenly aware of those concerns and acted diligently, conscientiously, and prudently in working with the developer to minimize those concerns.