Pitasi v. Saoud

A-6429-96T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: November 13, 1998

ZONING; ENFORCEMENT—A neighbor that was to have benefitted from a stipulation of settlement with a municipality over a zoning matter has the right to seek enforcement of that stipulation and to halt violation of the applicable zoning ordinance.

A wholesale and retail fruit and vegetable business operated buildings located in an area zoned for business purposes. The rear portion of the business’ property was zoned for residential use. One of the buildings on the business portion of the property was a garage which was built with the acquiescence of the municipality to reduce the annoyance to neighbors. Nonetheless, residential neighbors complained that large refrigerator trucks regularly drove over the residential portion of the business’ property. In addition, the neighbors contended that the trucks were frequently parked on the business property in a manner that caused them great annoyance and in a way that violated the municipal zoning ordinance.

In a law suit by the municipality against the business some ten years earlier, the municipality sought to end the trucking operations that were prohibited by its zoning ordinance. The suit was concluded by a stipulation of settlement prohibiting the business from running the trucks’ compressors while parked, except while a delivery was being made, and also from parking any truck on the residential portion of the property. The stipulation did not purport to permit the business’ trucks to regularly cross the residential portion of the property in order to use the garage. In the current action, the neighbors sued the municipality and the business to make the business halt the objectionable behavior. They argued that the municipal ordinance located the land in a residential zone and that, as affected neighbors, they had standing to obtain an injunction to enforce the earlier settlement. The business owner conceded that the neighbors had standing, but argued that the prior action was dispositive and argued that the neighbors should have intervened in the earlier litigation. The Court held for the neighbors. In its opinion, the municipality’s enforcement suit, which ended with a stipulation of settlement, did not preclude the neighbors from pursuing the current litigation. The substance of the stipulation was that the business would comply with applicable zoning ordinances. To the Court, it was obvious that the stipulation was entered into for the benefit of the neighbors as well as that of the business and the municipality. Consequently, if the business operations violated an ordinance, the neighbors had the right to enforce the stipulation. While the business’ rights and the zoning ordinance could have been altered by a valid amendment or variance, neither had been done. The Court further found that if the business was being operated in violation of the zoning ordinance, the neighbors suffered a special injury because of their proximity to the property, thereby entitling them to relief. In addition, laches and estoppel will rarely bar enforcement of a zoning ordinance either by the municipality or by an interested neighbor.