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St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church v. City of Vineland

A-4945-06T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING; REDEVELOPMENT — Where a change in use is of such magnitude as to undertaken by the revision of a redevelopment plan, the same substantial evidence that it applies to authorize the change in use as would apply of a redevelopment plan in the first place.

A municipality’s master plan called for it to provide the long-term homeless with temporary shelters. It did not, however, designate a geographic area where such shelters should be located. Twelve years after the master plan was adopted, the municipality created a redevelopment plan in a zone that ordinarily would not allow a homeless shelter as a permitted use. In seeking to approve construction of a homeless shelter in that zone, the municipality sought recommendations from its planning board. The board opined that amending the redevelopment plan to include a homeless shelter would not be inconsistent with the master plan. The municipality, after two public meetings, amended its redevelopment plan to allow for development of the project. A challenger to the project sued over the validity of the ordinance. The lower court dismissed the complaint. The challenger appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed and remanded to the municipality’s governing body for further consideration of the proposed plan amendment. It held that New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law required substantial credible evidence to support a municipality’s determination that an area is in need of development. The Court addressed the question whether substantial credible evidence was required where a redevelopment plan is revised to allow for a significant change in the permitted use in the area. It observed that the municipality did not conduct a census or rely on any information as to need for a homeless shelter, that there was an existing homeless shelter within municipal limits at less than full capacity, and that there were no findings other than a statement that the revision would be neither consistent with nor inconsistent with the redevelopment plan. The Court held that where a change in use is of such magnitude as to be undertaken by a revision of a redevelopment plan, the same substantial evidence standard applies as would apply to the passing of a redevelopment plan in the first place. It noted that before a homeless shelter can be included in a mixed residential zone, substantial supporting evidence is required. That is why, the Court remanded the matter to the municipality for additional fact-finding to determine whether substantial credible evidence could be established to warrant amendment of the redevelopment plan.

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