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Woodmont Properties v. Meola Builders, Inc.

A-1105-10T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) (Unpublished)

ZONING — If a land use board properly reviews extensive evidence and declines to impose specific conditions within approvals, it will not be found to have acted arbitrarily.

A landowner filed an application for a four-lot preliminary major subdivision. The proposed subdivision did not provide access to an adjoining parcel, so it had no access to any surrounding roadway through the landowner’s property. The adjoining parcel owner approached the landowner to discuss a joint project that would give the adjoining parcel access to the Turnpike through the landowner’s property. The landowner rejected this proposal and sent the required statutory ten-day notice that it was pursuing its original four lot application with the board. A few days before the hearing, the adjoining parcel owner requested a thirty day adjournment, claiming it had just heard about the rejection of its proposal and needed time to prepare. The board denied the request because the adjoining parcel owner was familiar with the proposed four-lot subdivision through its numerous prior discussions and negotiations with the applicant. The board then approved the landowner’s application.

The neighbor sued. In affirming the board’s decision, the lower court held that the applicant had properly addressed the landlocked parcel’s access issues. It rejected the adjoining parcel owner’s argument that the board made an erroneous decision by not imposing a condition on the adjoining landowner’s application that there would be access to the Turnpike. The board had carefully considered the issue, but did not feel that it needed to impose such a condition.

On further appeal, the Appellate Division held that the lower court appropriately rejected the adjoining parcel owner’s prerogative writs challenge to the municipality’s approval of a conforming four-lot subdivision. The Court found that the decision was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. To it, the lower court had properly reviewed extensive evidence with respect to the landlocked issue, and had appropriately concluded the board’s decision to approve the landowner’s subdivision application without making provision or condition for access to the adjoining landowner’s parcel was not arbitrary. The Court also found that the lower court, following a bench trial, correctly dismissed the balance of the adjoining landowner’s complaint wherein it had alleged breach of contract against the landowner in failing to submit a joint application to develop their two parcels, finding the parties never reached a meeting of the minds on the essential terms of such an agreement.

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