Seilback v. Borough of Longport

A-4367-96T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1998) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: February 27, 1998

ZONING—Statements by public officials that public land adjacent to a residential tract would not be developed cannot estop the municipality from rezoning the property. There is a presumption in favor of rezoning plans, and an objector bears the burden of overcoming the presumption.

Property owners sought to subdivide their lot and build a new house. They based the design and placement of their house on representations by municipal officials that the municipality had no plans for the vacant lot it owned adjacent to their lot. When the municipality announced its intention to subdivide its lot and re-zone it from public to residential use, the property owners sued, arguing that re-zoning served no legitimate purpose under the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). The trial judge found that the property owners were seeking to enjoin the municipality from use of its own property, and held that the municipality was not estopped from re-zoning, subdividing, and selling its own parcel. The judge held that the property owners were unreasonable in relying on statements of the municipality’s building inspector and zoning officer because those statements constituted only unreliable predictions. The judge also ruled that re-zoning served the fundamental purposes of zoning under the MLUL, and noted that the re-zoning from public use to single-family residential use protected the established character of the neighborhood. Finally, the lower court judge stated that the issue of whether the lot should be dedicated to public use was a policy issue to be resolved by elected officials rather than a court. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the municipality.

The Appellate Division affirmed all of the lower court’s findings and conclusions, stating that the property owners did not overcome the presumption in favor of re-zoning and failed to demonstrate that the amendment was substantially inconsistent with the municipality’s master plan.