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Rockaway Estates Inc. v. Rockaway Township

Decided: December 27, 1955.


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


In this action in lieu of prerogative writ plaintiff sought a judgment establishing the invalidity of the zoning ordinance of Rockaway Township, Morris County, New Jersey. The attack was predicated primarily on the allegation that the ordinance as a whole was invalid because it was not adopted pursuant to a reasonable, comprehensive plan for the creation of zones designed to accomplish the orderly development of land use. Secondly, it was contended that the zone classification of plaintiff's land was unreasonable and discriminatory and amounted to spot zoning. The trial court sustained the ordinance as a valid exercise of municipal power. This appeal followed.

Some factual background is necessary to the proper consideration of the matter.

Rockaway Township consists of an area of 45.3 square miles. It is basically a rural community with hilly and mountainous terrain. Three villages and three lake developments known as White Meadow, Lake Telemark and Green Pond are situated within the township. The year-round population, according to the 1940 census was 2,423; by the 1950 census it was 4,418. In 1954 the estimated all-year population was 6,350 and 9,800 in the summer. There is no sanitary sewer system except in a small area adjacent to the Town of Dover.

Prior to March 18, 1954 no zoning ordinance had ever been adopted. In March 1951 a zoning commission, composed of the local citizenry, was appointed to study the problem. The record is plain that before the professional planning consultants were engaged the commission had made substantial progress, zones had been decided upon, tentatively at least, a zoning map had been drawn and the text of the ordinance had been prepared.

On July 15, 1953 plaintiff, a developer and builder, acquired title to 341.90 acres in the township. Before the acquisition it knew that a zoning ordinance was in the formative stage and one of its representatives had met with the township committee, the school board and the zoning commission, in connection with its intention to purchase and subdivide the land for the building of one-family homes. The proposed project contemplated the construction of about 1,200 homes on lots 60 feet by 100 feet.

In January 1954 plaintiff submitted to the governing body a proposed subdivision of part of its land into lots of the size mentioned. The plan was turned over to the zoning commission.

In September 1953 the zoning commission began to consult with a firm of planning experts. The firm was actually engaged in January 1954 and worked both independently and with the commission through March 18, 1954, when the ordinance in question was enacted. The experts continued their study thereafter and were still occupied with it at the time of the hearing in this action.

There is no doubt that the presentation of plaintiff's proposed subdivision accelerated the activity on the part of the town officials toward the completion of the zoning process and the submission of the ordinance for adoption. However, the trial court found, and we agree, that the proof does not warrant a finding that the enactment was aimed solely at plaintiff's land or designed to discriminate against it arbitrarily. The testimony shows that the expert planners were not engaged primarily to draw the ordinance; they were to do a complete planning program for the community. The proposed development was discussed with them and they advised the township that if their study indicated that the location was a logical one for it, they would recommend it.

It does appear that the study of the planners would not be completed for at least two years, and some further revisions or refinements of the ordinance were in contemplation. But these facts of themselves should not militate against the legal efficacy of the ordinance so long as it meets

the requisites to validity hereafter discussed. Nor is it to be condemned merely because it was enacted hastily and to some extent as an interim measure to prevent a building project which would destroy aborning the effort to provide for the orderly land use development of the municipality. Cf. Guaclides v. Borough of Englewood Cliffs , 11 N.J. Super. 405 (App. Div. 1951).

In such a situation the action of the governing body should be viewed liberally and with sympathy, having in mind the important ...

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