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Prologis-Macquarie New Jersey, II, LLC v. Monroe Township Planning Board

A-0846-04T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ORDINANCES; INTERPRETATION — In reviewing actions in lieu of prerogative writs challenging a municipal planning board’s interpretation of a parking ordinance, a court is not required to give deference to the board’s decision.

A company owned a large piece of land with a building. It leased it to a warehouse company that had been awarded a contract from the post office to store and distribute postal equipment. To comply with the terms of the contract, the tenant needed to house three hundred and fifty tractor trailers on the property. The property owner and tenant applied to the municipality’s planning board for site plan approval to expand the parking lot to accommodate the trailers. The parking lot was located in the front portion of the property. The planning board denied the application on the basis that the municipality’s parking ordinance did not permit parking in the entire front part of a property. The owner then filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the board’s decision. The lower court upheld the board’s determination on the basis that the ordinance did not permit the expansion of the parking lot in the front yard. The company appealed, asserting that the planning board was required to grant its site plan application because the parking lot expansion complied with the local ordinance and the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law. It further contended that the board misinterpreted the ordinance, which actually permitted the expansion of the parking lot. In its defense, the municipality asserted that the intent behind the ordinance was to allow parking in rear and side yards only and to prohibit parking in front yards.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling. It held that the lower court should not have given deference to the board’s decision because the case centered around the interpretation of the parking ordinance. It ruled that interpretation of a municipal ordinance is a legal issue about which a court is not required to give a planning board any deference. The Court then proceeded to review the case de novo. It analyzed the expressed language of the ordinance and found that it only prohibited parking in the set-back area of the property and not in the entire front yard. As a result, it held that both the board and lower court incorrectly interpreted the requirements of the parking ordinance, and as a result the board’s action was reversed.

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