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PMJ Realty, Inc. v. Borough of Highland Park Board of Adjustment

A-3601-03T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

ZONING; SPLIT LOTS—A zoning board does not have to apply a municipality’s split lot ordinance where the applicant has acquired property in the adjacent zone and expects that the merger doctrine will combine those nonconforming lots with its original property and thus allow it to use the newly acquired lots for the otherwise prohibited use.

A municipality had a “split lot” provision in its zoning ordinance. It provided that “[i]n all cases where a zoned district boundary line divides a lot or parcel of land in one (1) ownership into two (2) or more zone districts, and more than fifty (50%) percent of the area of such lot is situated in one (1) zone district, the regulations prescribed by this chapter for the zone district within which more than fifty (50%) percent of such lot or parcel is situated shall be applied to the entire lot or parcel.” An automobile body repair shop was located entirely in a commercial zone. The owner of that property purchased two adjoining lots in a residential zone and applied to the zoning board for permission to use the residential land as a parking lot accessory to the automobile body repair shop business. The zoning board ruled that the “split lot” provisions did not apply. The automobile body shop appealed to the Law Division who ruled in its favor because it believed that the “split lot” provision applied directly to the situation before it. The zoning board appealed, and the Appellate Division upheld the original zoning board decision. In doing so, it rejected the lower court’s opinion, finding that “[i]mplicit in [the lower court’s] decision [was] the idea that because all of the lots in question are now owned by one entity,” the residential lots “must be treated as having been merged into the adjoining commercial property, thereby creating a single parcel in one ownership divided by a zone line with more than 50 percent of the resulting parcel being located in a commercial zone.” The Court pointed to an earlier case where it “rejected a similar merger argument, holding that ‘the result would be to extend the nonconforming use, contrary to the purpose of the local zoning ordinance and the master plan.’” With that as background, the Court held that the zoning board “was correct in interpreting its split zone provisions as applicable to existing lots that are split by a zoning ordinance into different zones.”

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