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Fischer v. Township of Bedminster

Decided: December 22, 1952.

HERMAN W. FISCHER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF BEDMINSTER, IN THE COUNTY OF SOMERSET AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Law Division of the Superior Court; certified by the Supreme Court on its own motion while pending in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- Justice Wachenfeld. The opinion of the court was delivered by Vanderbilt, C.J.

Vanderbilt

The plaintiff's attack on the zoning ordinance of the defendant township resulted in a judgment in favor of the township. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court and we have brought the matter here on our own certification.

To understand the controversy it is essential to get a clear picture of the defendant township which was founded by royal charter in 1749. While it has an area of 26 square miles and is therefore more extensive than Newark, the largest city in the State, with its 23.57 square miles, it has a population of only 1,613 in comparison with Newark's 437,857. It is distinctly a rural community with no industry, light or heavy, and with little commercial activity, it being

stipulated in the pretrial order that "for most items, the residents shop outside the township." There are four "villages" within the township, Pluckemin, Pottersville, Lamington and Bedminster village, and curiously enough the language used in Gordon's Gazetteer of New Jersey to describe the township and its villages in 1834 is largely applicable 118 years later. Thus the township is characterized as "hilly," as distinguished from "level" Bridgewater to the southeast and from "mountainous" Bernards to the northeast; its population in 1830 was 1,453. Gazetteer 240. By turning the pages of the Gazetteer one may find scores, if not hundreds, of other communities within a relatively few miles of the metropolis in which there has been no appreciable growth in 120 years, due generally to the lack of adequate railroad transportation. Lane, From Indian Trail to Iron Horse (Princeton, 1939), passim. The soil is described in the Gazetteer as "lime, clay, and red slate, generally well cultivated and fertile," p. 98. Pluckemin is characterized as containing "1 tavern, 2 stores and from 25 to 30 dwellings," p. 218; Pottersville, "a tavern, store and a few dwellings," p. 220; Lamington, "a Presbyterian church, a tavern and 3 or 4 dwellings, situate in a pleasant fertile country," p. 167 -- all of them not too inaccurate descriptions today.

The pretrial order stipulates that the township consists of "rolling countryside divided into a naturally wooded area, farms and country establishments," that there are 457 families in the township, four churches, five cemeteries, three elementary schools (high school students going to Bernardsville), three post offices (some residents being served by post offices outside the township or by rural delivery from Somerville, the county seat), 55.3 miles of road (6.5 miles of state highways, 12 miles of county roads and 36.8 miles of municipal roads, of which 28.8 are unimproved stone and dirt roads), and 25 businesses, consisting of four grocery stores, four gas stations, three garages, two general stores, two saddle and harness stores, two inns, two real estate offices, an undertaker's establishment, a plumber's shop, a toy train store, a

gift shop, an upholstery shop, and a custom farming and trucking establishment. The township has one full-time police officer and several part-time special officers, but no fire department of its own, contributing to the Union Hose Company of Far Hills. Only a relatively small part of the township has a public water supply system. There is no public sewerage system. Sewage disposal presents a problem because of the large amount of shale in the soil which hampers drainage. A site for a sewage disposal plant has been acquired by the township in Bedminster Center. There is no public transportation system in the township, railroad transportation being provided from Far Hills to the east of the township or from Somerville to the south. In short, the township, although only 40 miles from New York, is as essentially rural as if it were 400 miles away, as its population of 62 per square mile demonstrates.

The surrounding municipalities are all likewise rural in character. To the north lies the township of Chester in Morris County with 27.7 square miles and a population of 1,298; and to the east the borough of Peapack and Gladstone with 5.4 square miles and a population of 1,459, the township of Bernards with 24.3 square miles and a population of 7,472, and the borough of Far Hills with 4.9 square miles and a population of 574; to the southeast the township of Bridgewater with 32.7 square miles with a population of 3,253 (with a large area devoted to industry on its southern border remote from Bedminster); to the southwest the township of Branchburg with 20.4 square miles and a population of 1,955; and to the west the township of Readington in Hunterdon County with 26.5 square miles and a population of 4,075, and the township of Tewksbury in Hunterdon County with 17.5 square miles and a population of 1,451.

In 1946, following a report of its zoning commission and the holding of public hearings, the township adopted a zoning ordinance dividing the township into three zones: an "A" residence zone in which no residence may be constructed upon a plot less than one-half acre; a "B" residence zone

in which no residence may be constructed upon a plot of less than five acres; and a business zone. At the time of the adoption of the ordinance the average size of each parcel of land in the "A" residence zone was about 10 1/2 acres; the average size of each parcel in the "B" residence zone about 104 acres. About 3 1/2 square miles were included in the "A" zone and ...


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