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Quagliariello v. Township of Edison

2004 WL 842000 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

ZONING; REDEVELOPMENT—Without a municipality proving that redevelopment of property is necessary, there can be no taking of the owner’s land absent a public purpose.

A landowner challenged a decision by the municipality and its local planning board that his properties constituted an area in need of redevelopment. The board’s planner had found that the owner’s existing structures were not conducive to wholesome living conditions because the property had an obsolete layout and had been stagnant and unproductive for more than ten years. At trial, the municipality was unable to produce any evidence of tax liens or of any building, safety or health code violations. In fact, the planner stated that neither of the owner’s two residential properties nor his vacant lot were in need of redevelopment, but their inclusion in the redevelopment area was reasonable because they were necessary for a larger project. Two other parcels were left out of the redevelopment area. Thus, by not including these other parcels or the residential properties in the redevelopment area, the municipality was seeking to create an irregular shaped redevelopment area under single ownership. The Court was concerned with such gerrymandering.

The Court defined “public use” as anything that tends to enlarge resources and contribute to the general welfare of the community. Further, it is not necessary for the entire community to directly utilize condemned property in order for such use to constitute public use. The fact that a private party may benefit from a taking does not render the taking private. On the other hand, when the exercise of the power of eminent domain results in a substantial benefit to specific private parties, a court must use heightened scrutiny to examine any assertion by the taking authority that the public interest is the primary interest being advanced. To determine whether a proposed taking for redevelopment is truly for a public purpose, a court, among other factors, may consider the history leading up to the decision to redevelop a property; the intent of the acquisition; who is affected by the acquisition; if there is a single owner affected; the size of the area needed for redevelopment; if there is proof of any health or building code violation; and, if there is any evidence of abandonment, such as the presence of tax liens.

Based on these factors, the Court in this case held that the planning board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. In the Court’s view, the municipality failed to present substantial evidence to support its declaration of need. In addition, the Court took note that the municipality had originally planned to redevelop land diagonally across the street from the complainant’s property. Following intense public objection, the municipality switched its interest to this particular property instead. Then, the municipality attempted to sell the condemned property to a private company.

The Court found the municipality’s criticisms of the owner’s property to be superficial. Some of these criticisms included that the owner had unsuccessfully attempted to sell the property; that one building on the property had cracks; that there was a drainage build-up in the gutters of a building; and that there were vehicles with “For Sale” signs parked on the property. In contrast, the property was never the subject of any health or building code violations, and currently conformed to all fire code regulations. What was more was that the owner had spent over $251,000 in an effort to clean up the property. Based on this evidence, the Court found that there was no basis upon which anyone could conclude that redevelopment was necessary, nor was there any proof of abandonment. Since the municipality was unable to demonstrate a public purpose for the taking, the Court held the taking to be for private use and unconstitutional. It set aside the planning board’s decision to redevelop the property.


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