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Suburban Real Estate Development Corporation v. Edison Township Planning Board

2005 WL 3439895 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

ZONING; SITE PLANS—A planning board’s authority in reviewing a site plan application is limited to determining whether the plan conforms with the municipality’s zoning and site plan ordinances; it does not have the authority to prohibit a use otherwise permitted by the municipality in its zoning and site plan ordinances.

A developer filed an application with the municipal planning board to build single family homes on eleven lots. “Seven of the lots would have access to a cul-de-sac.” Three lots would have access to a heavily traveled roadway, and one to a less traveled street. Although the planning board found that the applicant’s plan “met all of the requirements of the RB Zone and no variances [were] required, the Board rejected the application.” Its rationale was that homes constructed on the heavily traveled road would have two-car driveways and the homeowners would probably access the heavily traveled road by backing their vehicles out of their driveways into traffic. The planning board’s resolution specifically stated: “Board members indicated that it appeared to them that this was an overuse of the property given that a portion of the property is located on [the heavily traveled road] located on [] a heavily traveled roadway and that a design could be approved which would involve less building lots without any of the homes accessing [that roadway].” The applicant went to court seeking a reversal of the board’s decision. In the decision that was upheld by the Appellate Division, the lower court “correctly concluded that the Board had overstepped its authority in denying [the] application because a planning board does not have the power to prohibit a permitted use merely because it is of the view that a proposed development is an ‘overuse’ of property. ... A ‘planning board’s authority in reviewing a site plan application is limited to determining whether the plan conforms with the municipality’s zoning and site plan ordinances.’ ... A planning board does not have authority to prohibit a use otherwise permitted by the municipality in its zoning and site plan ordinances.” Further, the lower court ruled, and the Appellate Division agreed, that there is a “well established principle that a planning board does not have authority to deny a development application because of off-site traffic conditions.” Also, there was no evidence before the board that “homeowners would have difficulty backing out of their driveways,” and there was no traffic study to support the board’s perceived traffic safety concerns. Lastly, although the decision of a land use board “is presumed valid and should not be set aside unless it is arbitrary, capricious or reasonable,” the lower court did set aside the decision because it found that the board’s concern about traffic on the heavily traveled roadway “was based on speculation.”


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