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Randolph Town Center Associates, L.P. v. Township of Randolph

324 N.J. Super. 412, 735 A.2d 1166 (App. Div. 1999)

ZONING; FLOOR AREA RATIO—Because a floor area ratio variance is for a permitted use, it is to be treated differently than an application for an excluded use; there is no need to show that the site is particularly suited for more intensive development.

A developer sought to construct a supermarket and a bank in a commercial zone where both uses were permitted. Nonetheless, it required several variances, one of which was relief from a floor area ratio (FAR) limitation. The board of adjustment granted all of the variances and the Superior Court upheld a neighbor’s appeal of the board’s decision. FAR measures the percentage of total floor area to the entire site by taking the sum of the area of all floors of buildings in square feet and dividing it by the total area of the site in square feet. The ordinance set a maximum FAR of 0.13 in the zone in question, although the property was close to other properties located in zones which permitted FARs of 0.18 to 0.25. Under the municipal ordinance, the floor area of the stairwells, elevator shafts, mechanical rooms, janitor rooms, and loading areas were excluded. Without those exclusions, the development would have had an FAR of 0.142. With those exclusions, the development had an FAR of 0.133, which was only 0.003 over the limit set by the municipal ordinance. A FAR restriction, like a restriction on density, bulk or building size, is a commonly employed technique for limiting the intensity of use of property. FAR standards are generally utilized to regulate commercial uses, whereas density restrictions, which limit the number of dwelling units per acre, achieve the same effect for residential development. Variances from FAR restrictions are governed by subsection (d) of N.J.S. 40:55D-70 because they can pose a greater threat to the zone plan and public good than other dimensional controls, which are regulated by subsection (c). Consequently, FAR variances are only to be granted upon a showing of special reasons (the positive requirement) and provided that the variance can be granted “without substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and the zoning ordinance” (the negative requirement). The Appellate Division held that because an FAR variance is for a use that is permitted in the zone, it is to be treated differently than a variance for an excluded use. Consequently, an applicant for an FAR variance need not show that the site is particularly suited for more intensive development. “To impose such a stringent burden would mean that an FAR variance applicant would have perhaps as difficult a burden to meet as an applicant for a prohibited use variance. To meet such a burden would be inconsistent with the principle that (d) variances for permitted uses need not meet the ‛stringent special reasons standards for a commercial-use variance.’” On the other hand, FAR variance applicants must show that the site will accommodate the problems associated with the proposed use having a larger floor area than permitted by the ordinance. The Appellate Division found that the board made detailed factual findings justifying the positive and negative statutory requirements. Accordingly, the Court held that the board of adjustment correctly found special reasons and determined that the variance could be granted “without substantial detriment to the public good.” Further, in the Court’s view, the board also rightly determined that there was no substantial impairment to the zone plan and ordinance. As a result, it respected the board’s proper exercise of its authorized discretion and upheld the grant of the variance.


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