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Signature Communities, L.L.C. v. Borough of Red Bank Zoning Board of Adjustment

A-0942-09T2, (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

ZONING; RESIDENTIAL SITE IMPROVEMENT STANDARDS — Where a zoning board finds, based on ample evidence in its record, that an applicant has failed to establish special reasons for a use variance, a court will not overturn the zoning board’s decision provided that the zoning board has not acted arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably.

A fifty-year-old apartment complex was situated in a waterfront development zone where multi-family residential uses with a density of forty units per acre were permitted. The complex had fifty-seven units per gross acre and occupied about one and one-half acres. Further, the complex had nonconformities for building height, parking, setbacks, frontage, lot coverage, and floor area. The complex had sixty-eight parking spaces.

The complex owner applied for permits to do renovations to the building. It proposed to redo the interior and exterior facade of the building, add balconies or terraces to certain units, and extend the seventh floor to the rear of the building. Initially, the applicant intended to maintain the existing sixty-eight parking spaces and add two spaces that would be reserved for parking by handicapped persons.

The municipal engineer declared the complex to be a Mid-Rise Apartment under New Jersey’s Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS) and thus determined that 132.2 parking spaces would be required if the improvements were made. At a zoning board hearing, the applicant presented testimony from an architect who stated that the purpose of the renovations was to enhance the building’s appearance and bring it up to more acceptable, modern standards. Also, a planner testified that the building had been functioning with only one parking space per unit. The property manager testified that the building had no problems with parking. After the hearing, the applicant submitted a revised site plan with nineteen additional parking spaces. A professional engineer then testified that the revised plan now had eighty-seven parking spaces compared to the RSIS’s requirement of 132 spaces, leaving a shortfall of 45 parking spaces. The applicant’s principal testified that various alternate parking arrangements had been investigated and rejected. The zoning board denied the application, noting that the present structure was not an eyesore and that the proposed renovations would exacerbate the lack of available parking.

The applicant sued to seek reversal of the decision. The lower court, however, affirmed the decision, finding that it was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. On appeal, the applicant argued that it had properly established special reasons for the issuance of the parking variance and that the municipality had acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and unreasonably in concluding otherwise. Specifically, the applicant argued that its proposed renovations would have been an aesthetic improvement to the fifty-year-old structure, allowed for public waterfront access, provided better access for handicapped persons, and increased the number of parking spaces.

The Appellate Division noted that the board had found that the applicant failed to establish special reasons for the variance, finding that the complex was not an eyesore, and that the proposed renovations were merely a facelift. The Court found ample evidence in the record to support those findings. Further, the Court argued that the zoning board had not acted arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably in finding that the applicant’s desired improvements did not rise to the level of satisfying the “special reasons.”

Regardless, the Court held that the applicant had not satisfied the negative criteria for variance relief. Specifically, it argued that the board reasonably found that the number of parking spaces proposed by the applicant was substantially deficient when measured against the number required by New Jersey’s standards. Thus, the denial was affirmed.


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