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City of Passaic v. State

Decided: February 25, 1954.

CITY OF PASSAIC, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, BY THE COMMISSIONER OF CONSERVATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, DEFENDANT



Davidson, A.j.s.c.

Davidson

[30 NJSuper Page 33] This is a proceeding for declaratory relief under N.J.S. 2 A:16-52 and is submitted to the court upon a stipulation of facts. The sole question presented for determination is the construction of the reversionary clause of a grant dated June 19, 1916, whereby the State of New

Jersey, by the Board of Commerce and Navigation, conveyed certain riparian lands in the City of Passaic to the board of commissioners of said municipality.

Plaintiff, in the early part of 1953, entered into negotiations to sell a portion of the lands, including improvements and appurtenances placed thereon by the city in establishing a ball field for public use, to the Housing Authority of the City of Passaic, a public body corporate and politic, created and existing under N.J.S.A. 55:14 A -1 et seq. , for the sum of $40,500.

The housing authority proposed to use said lands for the purpose of erecting a low-rent housing project so as to provide safe and sanitary dwelling accommodations for persons of low income, including the erection of apartment buildings, streets, parks and recreational facilities, and defendant, recognizing the existence of the current national housing shortage, and in order to permit the effectuation of the purpose of the Housing Authority, consented to the conveyance of the property by plaintiff to said housing authority in March 1953. Defendant's consent to the conveyance was upon condition that plaintiff would retain out of the proceeds of said sale the sum of $10,000, which was to be held in escrow and released and paid over to plaintiff or defendant after adjudication of an action for declaratory judgment.

The conveyance by the city to the housing authority embraces an area of approximately 96,106 square feet, of which 35,306 square feet are park area, 7,600 square feet playgrounds, 35,100 square feet streets and walks, 5,600 square feet clothes-drying areas and walks, and 12,500 square feet buildings.

The grant contains the following provisions:

"Provided, that the land now or formerly under water, above described and granted for park or street purposes, shall be kept and maintained as a public park, street, or place for public use, resort and recreation, and that no building or other structures shall be erected on such park, or on the lands now or formerly under water so granted inconsistent with its use as a public park, street or place of public use, resort or recreation.

And provided further, that the lands so granted are to be used for the purposes above stated and to rever to the State of New Jersey if any diversion from such purpose is allowed by the said The Board of Commissioners of the City of Passaic, its successors or assigns."

Plaintiff city contends that the housing project of the Authority is a "public use" permitted under the provisions of the grant and, there having been no violation, the reversionary clause cannot be invoked. The State, as defendant, maintains that the housing project is not a "place for public use," that the erection of apartment buildings is inconsistent with the use of the land "as a public park, street or place of public use, resort or recreation," and that the lands revert to the State by reason of this diversion from the uses and purposes set forth in the grant.

The question presented is one of simple interpretation -- what was the intent and meaning of the parties as evidenced by the language of the reversionary clause?

Plaintiff lays stress on the fact that a low-cost housing project has, in numerous cited cases, been held to be a public use under the statutes relating to eminent domain. This, while unquestionably true, lends no support to plaintiff's position, for many uses obviously inconsistent with park and street purposes have been so held, ...


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