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NJ High Court Could Give Towns More Ammo In Zoning Battles

Law360

November 07, 2014

As seen in this article, "The New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider when towns are justified in designating property as environmentally sensitive in order to prevent higher-density development, in a case that some attorneys say could make it harder for landowners to challenge radical zoning decisions.

That's if the justices overturn a 2013 appellate ruling in Thomas and Carol Griepenburg's suit against Ocean Township, which “downzoned” their 31-acre property in 2006 to require minimum lot sizes of 20 acres for development as part of broader smart growth plans. A trial court had ruled for the municipality.

The appellate ruling followed most practitioners' understanding of the current law, according to Kevin J. Moore of Sills Cummis & Gross P.C.

'Zoning ordinances are given a strong presumption of validity and must only meet a 'rational relationship test,' ' Moore said. 'However, there is a further standard that provides protection and guidance to property owners. The means selected by the ordinance have to have a real and substantial relationship to the objective. The concern would be, as someone who represents developers, that this could signal a retreat from this doctrine to some degree or another.'

According to Moore, a full or even partial retreat from that doctrine would mean property owners and developers would have less security in the current zoning of properties and fewer protections when it comes to such extreme downzoning."