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Hoboken cannot block residential development with new zoning ordinances, Supreme Court holds

In Shipyard Assocs., LP v. City of Hoboken, 242 N.J. 23 (2020), the Supreme Court held that the City of Hoboken could not block a waterfront residential development by enacting two new zoning ordinances within two years of the development’s final approval.

In 2012, Shipyard Associates received final approval from the Hoboken Zoning Board to build high-rise apartment buildings along the Hudson River. Less than two years later in 2013, after Hurricane Sandy, the City passed two new ordinances. Z-263 was enacted under the City’s police power to reflect FEMA’s flood hazard map and restrict construction in certain coastal areas. Z-264 was enacted specifically as a zoning ordinance pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). Section 52(a) of the MLUL protects new development from having to comply with any zoning ordinances passed within two years after final approval.

The City sued to block the project under these two new ordinances and claimed the MLUL’s two-year protection period did not prevent them from doing so. First, the City claimed Z-263 was not a zoning ordinance. Second, the City claimed that the MLUL contains an implicit exception for health and safety issues, like flooding.

The Supreme Court rejected both of these arguments and held that Shipyard did not have to comply with either ordinance. The Court focused on the fact that Z-263 functions as a zoning ordinance because it restricts construction and requires variances from the Zoning Board. The Court also rejected the City’s claim of an implicit health-and-safety exception, sticking to the statute’s plain language, and emphasized that this was a final approval, not a preliminary approval, and Shipyard is therefore entitled to more protection.

Since the case was decided, courts have cited it to rebut claims of implicit exceptions or provisions not stated in statutes’ plain text. This holding should put parties on notice that New Jersey courts are unlikely to read in any silent exceptions, even to support issues of public health and safety.

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