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Wollman v. The Planning Board of the Borough of Oceanport

A-4563-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

ZONING — A land use board’s resolution must contain findings of fact and cannot merely be a summary finding couched in the conclusionary language of the applicable zoning statute.

A woman owned a 44,400 square foot parcel of land located in a residential zone. She filed an application with the planning board to subdivide her property into three lots and to build new single-family residences. All of the proposed lots complied with the minimum area requirements for residential development in the zoning district. She also applied for various bulk variances. After a hearing, the board approved the application despite the testimony of an adjoining owner who objected to the application. The adjoining owner then challenged the board’s determination, claiming it failed to set forth specific findings of fact and conclusions of law sufficient to support its approval of the owner’s application for variance relief.

The Law Division affirmed the board’s approval. The lower court’s decision did not address the adjacent owner’s contention that the resolution failed to include findings of fact and conclusions of law necessary to justify the board’s approval of owner’s variance application. The adjoining owner appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision. It pointed out two alternative statutory grounds upon which the board could have granted a bulk variance. The Court was unable to determine whether the board granted the variance based on either of the available statutory grounds. It also stated that a board’s responsibility to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its decision cannot be satisfied by “a summary finding couched in the conclusionary language of the statute.” Further, the Court found that the resolution did not contain findings of fact. It stated that the resolution: (i) only briefly recited the evidence presented by the property owner; (ii) noted that the adjoining owner and others objected to the application; and (iii) included a conclusionary statement that approval of the plan would be consistent with the law and the municipal zoning ordinance. Thus, the Court believed the record before the board raised “substantial questions” regarding the owner’s entitlement to a variance. The board’s resolution stated in conclusionary form that there was no inherent negative aspect to the plan and did not specifically address the negative impacts raised at the hearing. As a result, the Court remanded the matter to the board for reconsideration and required the issuance of a new resolution which had to contain detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law in conformity with its opinion.

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