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Witty v. Planning Board of Township of Boonton

A-3898-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

ZONING; VARIANCES—Even if a court believes that a variance should be granted, it must defer to a land use board and its denial decision.

The owner of two adjoining lots sued the local planning board for denying a variance application. The owner had requested a variance to separate the two lots and construct a residential dwelling on one of them. The owner appealed the decision. The lower court held that, based upon the facts presented, the planning board could have justifiably granted or denied the owner’s variance application. It pointed out that a court may not substitute its judgment for that of a planning board unless the court concludes that the board’s determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision, emphasizing that it is inappropriate for a court to overturn a planning board’s decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. This is because local public bodies must be allowed a wide degree of discretion in making their decisions because they have specialized knowledge in the subject matter before them. The Court further ruled that a court may not reverse a planning board’s determination as long as there is substantial evidence to support the determination.

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