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Borough of Rockleigh v. Astral Industries Inc.

Decided: December 24, 1953.


Jayne, Francis and Stanton. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.A.D.


This is a zoning case instituted in the Chancery Division of this court in which the interested municipality and a proximate property owner sought an injunction against alleged violation of the zoning ordinance and a declaratory judgment as to the permissible scope of the alleged violator's manufacturing operations. The trial court denied the relief sought and a review of the denial is now sought. 23 N.J. Super. 255 (Ch. 1952).

The Borough of Rockleigh is a small community of 25 homes and 105 inhabitants in northern Bergen County. It is one mile square in area. The business activities are all located in one part of the borough and consist of a riding stable, a combination garage and welding shop, and the manufacturing plant of the respondent corporation, Astral Industries, Inc.

Appellant Pfeil Realty Co., consisting of Ward Greene, his wife Edith Greene, and one other person, is the owner of a 7 1/2-acre parcel of land on the northeast corner of County Road and Willow Avenue in the borough. The Greenes reside in a substantial home thereon.

The plant of Astral Industries, Inc. is located on the southeast corner of the same intersection across the street from the Greene premises. The building stands on a plot 554 x 314 x 622 x 308 feet. Originally it was built for and used as an indoor polo field.

During World War II the building was purchased by the Aero Metalcraft Corporation and used for the manufacture of mufflers for planes, chairs, cabinets and parts for military tanks.

At this time the borough had a zoning ordinance, adopted in 1924, under which the premises were located in a residential zone. However, in 1944 the ordinance was amended to legalize the business activity of Aero Metalcraft by changing the zone and designating it as zone "D," light industrial.

In 1948 Aero Metalcraft became bankrupt and thereafter, in latter March or early April 1949, under an agreement with the trustee in bankruptcy, respondent Astral Industries, Inc. took possession and began manufacturing small refrigerators. On April 8, 1949 a contract of purchase was made with the trustee but it was not consummated until July 26, 1950, when the deed was delivered.

On April 5, 1949, while the manufacturing was still in progress, the zoning ordinance was again amended and the premises placed back in the residential zone. However, in this proceeding the municipality recognizes that Astral's pre-existing nonconforming use is not affected thereby so long as its operations are within those permitted in the light industrial zone.

This zone is described as follows:

"Section 4, District D Zone. (A) 2. Light manufacturing which is herein defined as the converting of raw, finished or unfinished material into an article or articles of a similar or different character, purpose or use, printing, publishing, engraving, woodworking, carpentering, cabinet making, of any nature which does not require power of any kind more than the equivalent of five (5) H.P. of electrical energy per machine and which does not involve or require hammering or striking together or beating of metal or hard substance."

When Astral assumed possession of the premises it recognized that the municipal fire-fighting facilities were extremely limited. Wells were and are the sole source of water. No water mains have ever been laid in the borough as the governing body was opposed to them. The reason assigned was that such mains probably would attract substantial

numbers of home builders to the community, which in turn would require the establishment of schools, public buildings, a police department and other services normally supplied by government. The desire was to keep the community small and residential and to keep the tax burden down.

A study of the fire-fighting problem was made by respondent as a result of which a plan was proposed whereby the Hackensack Water Company would extend its mains into the borough and thus provide water for a tank of undisclosed size to be built on respondent's premises. Around August 1950 the plan was discussed with the mayor and then with the council, and the borough's opposition to extension of the mains along the public streets from Northvale, an adjoining municipality, to the plant was announced to respondent and a representative of the water company.

However, Astral proceeded with arrangements to accomplish its objective and assumed financial obligations to a total of $85,318.58 therefor. ...

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