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Realty Sites v. Township of Clark

A-2381-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ORDINANCES; NOTICES — Even though specific properties are not identified in a revised master plan, detailed recommendations for zoning changes put land owners on notice that their properties could be rezoned as part of a zoning re-examination process and, as a result, specific notice to affected property owners is not required for adoption of a rezoning ordinance arising out of such an examination.

A municipality, upon the advice of its hired consulting firm, revised its master plan to create a new downtown district intended to increase foot traffic and to limit the size of businesses in order to increase commercial density. The ordinance revisions also included changing certain commercial zones to residential uses. Roughly six months later, the municipality reexamined the master plan and made additional changes designed to ease traffic conditions as well as to make necessary improvements for water service and stormwater management. The following year, an ordinance was passed creating a new downtown district. A property owner of a number of properties in the municipality sued to invalidate the ordinance. It argued that proper notice was not given and that the municipality failed to justify the differences between the ordinance and the master plan.

The lower court found that although the municipality had properly published notice of the proposed ordinance, it did not provide adequate notice to landowners affected by the ordinance. It also found that the municipality was not exempt from providing such notice under the statutory exception allowing zoning changes stemming from a reexamination of a master plan. It added that reexamination of the master plan was not reflected in the ordinance, the master plan did not suggest zoning changes for specific properties, and that the public had been denied an opportunity to offer input. On appeal, the Appellate Division found that reexamination of the master plan, as a broad-based review, took place over a substantial period of time allowing for public input, and in disagreement with the lower court, found that the ordinance resulted from the reexamination of the master plan. It added that even though specific properties were not identified in the revised master plan or its subsequent reexamination, the detailed recommendations for zoning changes put landowners on notice that their properties could have been rezoned as part of the process. As a result of its findings and conclusions, the Court reversed the lower court’s invalidation of the revised ordinance.

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