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Suburban Jewelers, Inc. v. City of Plainfield

A-3590-08T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

REDEVELOPMENT — Where a planning board and its municipality agree that an area is in need of redevelopment based upon reports discussing specific conditions of each property in the area and explaining in detail why those conditions rose to the level of obsolescence, dilapidation, and faulty design, the municipality has a reasonable basis to designate the area as in need of redevelopment.

A municipality investigated whether a portion of its central business district was in need of development pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL). The redevelopment area consisted of portions of two blocks diagonally across from each other. Pursuant to an authorizing resolution, the municipality planning board undertook a study. The board retained an engineer who conducted a study and issued a Needs Report. The report described the individual properties within the central business district and the investigations conducted by staff. Interviews were conducted with property owners, occupants, and managers. The properties were physically inspected and photographed, and construction, police, and other public records were reviewed.

The Needs Report found that the structures were all marked by substantial physical deterioration, exceeding mere cosmetic deficiencies. Some buildings were wholly or partially unoccupied for substantial periods of time or because of code violations. The layout of the buildings contributed to public safety concerns because of poor sight lines in areas of vehicular traffic. The parking lots presented safety hazards because of inadequate drainage. Police records revealed significant criminal activity in the area, and inspections and photographic evidence revealed the presence of vagrants. Lighting conditions were substandard. The report concluded that the conditions of the properties were so detrimental to the safety, health, and welfare of the community as to support a determination of need for redevelopment under law.

The planning board held a public hearing to discuss the findings of the needs report. A contributor to the report described the connection between the findings of dilapidation, faulty arrangement and layout, and obsolescence of the properties that resulted in detriment to the community’s safety, health and welfare. The board declared the area to be in need of redevelopment, basing its finding on the Needs Report, the testimony at hearing, and the knowledge of the area by the board members. Commercial property owners who felt adversely affected by the proposed redevelopment filed suit to set aside the designation. The lower court found the statutory criteria for designation had been met and that there was an adequate showing of the necessary detriment to health, safety, welfare, and morals. It granted summary judgment to the municipality.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The Court was satisfied that the municipality had a reasonable basis to designate the area as in need of redevelopment, based upon the New Jersey Supreme Court holding that blighted areas can be authorized for redevelopment if allowing them to remain in a deteriorated or stagnated state that negatively affects surrounding properties. The Court found the Needs Report discussed specific conditions of each property and explained in detail why those conditions rose to the level of obsolescence, dilapidation, and faulty design. The report also named the sources of its factual investigations that it relied upon – interviews, physical inspections, and review of records.

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