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Shore Memorial Health Foundation, Inc. v. City of Somers Point

A-0415-05T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

ZONING — There is no authority to allow a municipality or a court, while considering a new redevelopment plan, to impose additional requirements on a land use applicant distinct from those imposed by the Municipal Land Use Law.

A property owner and a developer reached an agreement regarding improvements to the owner’s properties. In order to reduce the cost of the proposed developments, the owner was to transfer land to the developer. The developer was to build condominium units which it would sell. Meanwhile, the municipality in which the properties were located adopted a plan which called for the redevelopment of certain properties, including the owner’s property. The plan stated that it superseded the use and bulk provisions of the municipality’s development regulations, and that it had the power to grant relief from bulk and dimensional requirements in the plan to the same extent as it could grant relief from such requirements pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). It also stated that all development had to be approved by the municipality’s planning board and submitted through the procedures contained in the MLUL. A certain redeveloper was designated for the owner’s properties, conditioned on the parties reaching a redevelopment agreement by a given date.

The owner and the original developer submitted applications for development of the owner’s properties to the municipality and its planning board. The municipality instructed the owner to meet with the designated redeveloper, and the owner did so. The owner and its original developer then presented their development plan as proposed in the previous applications. The municipality did not act on the proposals, but extended the designated redeveloper’s status. The planning board deemed the applications incomplete until approved by the municipality since, upon adopting the redevelopment plan, the municipality’s legislature had named itself the redevelopment entity.

The owner filed an action against the planning board in an attempt to compel the board to consider its applications. The lower court invalidated the plan adopted by the municipality. It also voided the resolution that had designated the redeveloper for the selected properties. Although the plan was voided, the lower court’s judgment prohibited the owner from submitting a development application until the municipality adopted a new plan. It also allowed the planning board to refuse to consider any application the owner filed without the municipality’s prior approval.

The owner appealed from the portion of the judgment that required it to obtain application approvals that were not required by the MLUL. In addressing that appeal, the Appellate Division found that since the lower court’s judgment declared the plan null and void, there was no basis for preventing the owner from pursuing an application for development until the municipality adopted a new plan. It stated that there was no authority to allow a municipality or a court, while considering a new redevelopment plan, to impose additional requirements distinct from those imposed by the MLUL. The Court found that the legislature clearly intended to allow owners to develop their properties, as expressed by a statute stating “the prohibition of development in order to prepare a master plan and development regulations is prohibited,” and “no moratoria on applications for development . . . shall be permitted.” Therefore, the Court found that once the plan was declared void, the only governmental limits on the owner’s subsequent applications for development were those imposed by the MLUL. The Court vacated the portion of the lower court’s order which had imposed additional requirements.

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