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TSI Marlboro, Inc. v. Township of Marlboro Zoning Board of Adjustment

A-1155-06T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

ZONING — Where there is sufficient evidence in the record to support a land use board’s decision, a court should not substitute its judgment for that of the land use board because local boards retain discretionary authority to make variance determinations as they possess unique knowledge of local conditions.

A business filed for a use variance to construct a recreational facility and health club in a light industrial zone. The zone permitted recreational activities, but only if the facility was not for profit. The applicant was organized for-profit. The board conducted seven public hearings, heard expert testimony, and considered evidence from only one objector, a potential commercial competitor of the applicant. No local residents addressed the board in opposition to the variance application. The board approved the use variance and found the applicant’s planner credible when he testified that the property was particularly suited for the proposed use. The board’s planner did not dispute the applicant planner’s testimony. The board noted that the objector’s motive was to prohibit a competitor from entering the market and to inhibit the objector’s economic viability. The board conditioned the approval on the applicant paying for a pro rata portion of the cost for a traffic light.

The objector sued, challenging the board’s decision to grant a use variance. The lower court reversed the board’s decision, hinging its decision on a belief that the board did not fully address costs for the project, and believed that the business would not give the municipality sufficient tax revenue and would cause traffic problems. The applicant appealed.

The Appellate Division found that there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the board’s decision, and the lower court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the zoning board. It held that local boards retain discretionary authority to render variance determinations as they possess unique knowledge of local conditions, and a reviewing court may not substitute its own judgment for a board’s factual determinations. The Court concluded that the lower court based its decision on its own investigation of the project site, and its unsupported assumptions regarding the financial status of the applicant, while overlooking the extensive information that the board received in the form of expert reports and testimony. Thus, it vacated the judgment and remanded the matter to the lower court for reconsideration and additional factfinding.

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