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Law Division Dismisses Complaint Regarding Planning Board Jurisdiction in Commercial Development

The New Jersey Law Division dismissed in March 2014 the complaint of Pavilion Homeowners Assn. v. Brick Twp. Planning Board, Law Div. (Ocean County) (Grasso, A.J.S.C.) (10 pp.), regarding a proposal to construct a Roy Rogers restaurant in the Township. The Court was faced with deciding whether or not the defendant’s notice to nearby owners was sufficient, and whether the Board acted improperly by granting approval of the final site plan. The Court ultimately found that though defendants AHG Land Holdings did not give notice to residents within 200 feet of land which would be affected by potential storm water runoff, the notice they gave to owners within 200 feet of the subject property itself was in fact sufficient. The Court also found that the Board was within its rights to approve the plan proposed.

Multiple hearings were held throughout 2013 by the Board regarding the proposed construction; however AHG only gave notice of the hearings to those owners within 200 feet of the subject property. The Association asserted that because the proposed plans required for water to be diverted to a catch basin on the subject property, owners affected by potential runoff within 200 feet of the basin should have been notified as well. The Association claimed that this lack of notice prevented the Association from cross-examining AHG or the Board’s witnesses. However, the record indicates that the Association was represented by counsel at hearings in 2013, and even cross-examined AHG’s witnesses at these hearings, demonstrating that no such right was lost as a result of the lack of notice.

The Association also challenged the Board’s jurisdiction to make the final decision. Specifically, the Association took issue with the fact that Board had approved the final proposal pending that AHG supplied information previously requested by the Boards’ engineer. The Association argued that it was unreasonable for the Board to make a final decision based on a proposal that had not supplied all needed information or implemented any of the changes recommended by the Board’s expert engineer.

However, in cases involving planning board decisions, case law has found that the burden of proof rests on challenging party; in this case, the Association. Ward v. Scott, 16 N.J., 16, 23 (1954). The Association failed to provide any demonstrable proof that the Board acted rashly, unreasonably, or otherwise arbitrarily in their decision. Furthermore, the role of a Court in local planning board decisions is generally limited. Dolan v. DeCapua, 16 N.J. 599, 612 (1954) found that such boards are “independent administrative bodies acting in a quasi-judicial manner.” Rexon v. Bd. Of Adj. of Haddonfield, 10 N.J., 1 7 (1952) found that reviewing trial courts must view board actions as presumptively correct, and their knowledge of their specific region must be taken into account in regards to their “delegated discretion.”

As a result of the Association’s failure to provide sufficient proof of the Board’s alleged arbitrary and capricious decision making, as well as finding that the notice given to property owners was sufficient enough that the Association was able to attend and participate in hearings on the proposal, the Court dismissed the complaint entirely.

Planning and land use matters can be complicated and rife with difficulty. However, Lieberman & Blecher is a firm staffed entirely by highly experienced attorneys who have represented municipalities and other government entities, as well as community association groups such as homeowner and condominium associations. If you’re facing issues involving redevelopment, land use, or community association affairs, we are here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact our office, where a representative will be more than glad to assist you.

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