Clapp, Proctor and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.
The question brought up by this appeal is whether the following section of Eatontown's zoning ordinance violates R.S. 40:55-48:
"No building or premises which cease to be actively engaged in non-conforming use for a period of one (1) year shall be allowed to resume such non-conforming use, but must be altered to conform with the restrictions of the zone in which it is."
As will appear herein, R.S. 40:55-48 allows a nonconforming use to be continued indefinitely.
Defendants were convicted in the Municipal Court of the Borough of Eatontown of a violation of the above-quoted section of the ordinance. They appealed to the County Court and, before the case came to trial on the appeal, moved to dismiss the complaint, raising the question stated. The County Court granted the motion, reversing the conviction.
The complaint alleges that prior to 1952 a retail business, constituting a legal nonconforming use, was carried on at a store on certain premises in the borough belonging to defendants; but that for more than a year, and particularly between December 31, 1952 and January 2, 1954, the "building and premises ceased to be actively engaged in such nonconforming use." There is nothing to indicate what the circumstances were during that year or whether there was any intention then on defendants' part to discontinue or abandon the use. But it does appear from the complaint that from February 1954 on, and with defendants' assent and assistance, someone has again been carrying on a retail business on the premises.
"Any nonconforming use or structure existing at the time of the passage of an ordinance may be continued upon the lot or in the building so occupied and any such structure may be restored or repaired in the event of partial destruction thereof."
This statute was enacted obviously with a view to certain conflicting interests. On the one hand, there are the municipality's strong interests in a planned community so far as it may be secured through the medium of zoning. Nonconforming uses weaken the plan, and besides, in some cases, confer upon their users vested monopolies in their respective zones.
On the other hand, there are the interests of the owner in his nonconforming use and of society in preventing an economic waste; and beyond that, there is society's concern for those who contemplate entering business or making improvements and who seek security against future changes in the zoning plan. See note 102 U. of Pa. L. Rev. 91, 102-104 (1953).
Confronted with these diverse interests, the Legislature authorized the continuance, indefinitely, of any nonconforming use existing at the passage of an ordinance. A municipal ordinance of course cannot interfere with the statutory purposes. As said in United Advertising Corp. v. Borough of Raritan , 11 N.J. 144, 152, 153 (1952):
"It is beyond the power of a municipality to limit by zoning ordinance the right expressly given the owners [of a nonconforming use] by this statute ...