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Pio Costa Enterprises v. Township of Montville

A-5026-06T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING — Just because a municipality could have achieved its legitimate zoning objective in a different manner, does not mean the municipality does not have the right to achieve that objective through a zoning ordinance that might be more burdensome to developers or other property owners.

A municipal zoning ordinance created a district located over and around an underground aquifer to protect the municipality’s water supply after the aquifer was deemed to be a stressed resource. The district’s restricted area banned community wells and only allowed private wells for individual residences. A developer owned a property, much of which was located in the newly restricted area. It sought to construct nearly fifty residential homes, roughly half of which were in the restricted area. The developer sued the municipality, challenging inclusion of its property in the restricted area and the prohibition of community wells within the restricted area. The lower court upheld both the inclusion and the ban.

The developer appealed the lower court’s decision to uphold the prohibition of community wells within the restricted area, arguing that it was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. The Appellate Division noted that there was a presumption of validity given to municipal zoning ordinances which are only to be overturned if found to be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, or if they contradicted the principles of zoning statutes. It noted that the provisions of an ordinance are required to be substantially related to the ordinance’s goals and are not to be broader than necessary. Here, the Court found that the municipality’s creation of the district was intended to regulate water use and was in the interest of maintaining the public health and safety of its residents. It also found that the municipality presented evidence that use of community wells within the restricted area would have reduced the amount of water that was needed to recharge or replenish the aquifer’s supply.

Thus, the Court concluded that there was a rational relationship between the creation of the district and the municipality’s goal of preserving recharge water for the aquifer. It also concluded that there was a rational basis for the municipality’s decision to prohibit community wells and to only allow individual wells. The Court acknowledged that the municipality could have chosen to regulate the supply of recharge water through the use of community wells, but that it would not overturn the ordinance on the basis that the municipality’s objectives could have been achieved in a different manner. As a result, the lower court’s decision to uphold the creation of the district was affirmed.

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