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Pheasant Bridge Corp. v. Township of Warren

A-27-98T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2000) (Unpublished)

ZONING; REZONING—Just because an individual lot within a larger land area doesn’t share the characteristics of the lands being rezoned doesn’t invalidate a rezoning of that lot based upon those particular characteristics.

A landowner owned about twenty-nine undeveloped acres of land in an 800 acre area that was rezoned by a municipality to protect its unique environmental characteristics. Those characteristics included: (a) open water; (b) a very high water table; (c) steep slopes; and (d) flood plains. The landowner claimed that a regulatory taking had occurred. The landowner’s property, although within the newly formed zone, did not suffer from any of these environmental restraints. Consequently, the lower court felt that the rezoning failed to substantially to advance a legitimate state interest. The Appellate Division disagreed. Although the re-zoning reduced the uses to which the property could be applied, it did not eliminate all economically viable uses. Prior to rezoning, the land had been used for farming. Although, after rezoning, it would have been necessary to create residential lots of not less than six acres in size, the fact that the rezoning inhibited the ability of the owner to create lots of a certain size did not by itself, mean that a taking had occurred. This is because a taking occurs when a regulation “so restricts the use that the land cannot practically be utilized for any reasonable purpose” or for any economically viable purpose. While the Appellate Division respected the lower court’s conclusion that the property did not suffer from the specific environmental restraints affecting the rest of the zone, especially because public sewer service was available to the twenty-nine acres, the overall judgment of the municipality should have been respected where the adopted zoning ordinance complied with its Master Plan. “An owner of land is not entitled to the best use of the property.” It was apparent that there was no attempt by the municipality to make this particular property owner bear the total burden of preserving open space and farmland. Consequently, because the Municipal Land Use law provides that one specific reason for zoning is to preserve open space and farmland, this particular zoning advanced a legitimate governmental interest.


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