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Sellick v. Planning Board of the Borough of Bradley Beach

A-5574-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; ORDINANCES; VAGUENESS — A municipal planning board may not render a site plan application decision based on a vague parking ordinance lacks standards.

A woman owned a building with ten apartments and a garage apartment. The women resided in the garage apartment and housed boarders in the apartment building. She sought to demolish the existing structures, subdivide the property into three lots, and construct three new single-family residences on each lot. She applied to the municipality’s planning board for site plan approval. The board denied the application on the basis that the proposed subdivision violated the municipality’s parking ordinance. The woman then filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs challenging the board’s decision. The lower court upheld the board’s denial of the application, and the woman appealed. On appeal, she asserted that the she was entitled to the board’s approval of her application as a matter of law because the proposed subdivision did not require any variances. She further asserted that the board could not base its decision on the parking ordinance then in effect because the ordinance did not contain any standards, and therefore the ordinance granted the board unfettered discretion.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s determination. In reaching its decision, it reviewed the expressed language of the ordinance. It found that the ordinance applied mostly to commercial properties, and that the only section that applied to residential properties was a catchall provision. The Court found that the catchall provision was too vague because it lacked any standards by which the board could formulate its decisions. According to the Court, an ordinance that imposes parking requirements must provide standards sufficient to place a municipality’s residents on notice of those requirements. The standards must also provide a basis for a planning board to render decisions. A parking ordinance that does not provide any standards improperly grants a planning board the power to dictate parking requirements on an ad hoc basis. Here, it found that the municipality’s parking ordinance was too vague because it lacked standards, and as a result it reversed the planning board’s determination.

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