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Tomaron, Inc. v. Township of Millstone

A-0028-95T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1997) (Unpublished)

MUNICIPALITIES; ZONING; SIGNS—Absent detrimental reliance on an erroneously issued sign permit, a claimant could not maintain its non-conforming, off-site sign even after it was in place for three years.

A company appealed a determination of the Chancery Court that it was not entitled to maintain an oversized sign that was erected in contravention of a municipal ordinance. The company argued that the Township of Millstone should be estopped from rescinding the permit it issued, and that laches should apply since the Township did not issue a summons until three years after the sign was in place. While prior courts have estopped a municipality from revoking a wrongly issued permit, the Appellate Division found no basis for estoppel in this case. The company did not act to its detriment in reliance on the permit except to erect the sign and enjoy the benefit of it. The company also did not open its business or otherwise expend substantial sums in reliance on the wrongly issued permit. Additionally, although courts have estopped a municipality when an official made a good faith but erroneous interpretation of the relevant ordinance, those cases were not applicable because the Court concluded that the issuing official in this case failed to comply with the requirements of the ordinance. The Appellate Court also refused to apply laches simply because of the lapse of time, favoring instead the Chancery Court’s overriding concept that public policy would be violated by allowing frustration of enforcement of a valid zoning regulation.


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