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Sorbino v. City of New Brunswick

Decided: February 4, 1957.


Ewart, J.s.c.


The plaintiffs, property owners in the City of New Brunswick, have brought this suit in lieu of prerogative writ pursuant to the provisions of L. 1949, c. 187, § 9 (N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1 et seq.) (and see also R.R. 4:88-2) to review, set aside and vacate findings and determinations of the planning board and of the governing body of the City of New Brunswick declaring and determining that the area comprising Blocks 104, 105, 117, 118 and 127 as shown on the official tax map of the city constitute a "blighted area" within the meaning of said L. 1949, c. 187. And plaintiffs further attack the constitutionality of said L. 1949, c. 187, and also seek damages allegedly suffered by them by reason of the alleged unlawful determination that plaintiffs' several properties are located in the so-called "blighted area."

The so-called "blighted area" is graphically shown on a map admitted in evidence as Exhibit D-9; comprises four

blocks, bounded on the east by the easterly side line of Burnet Street, bounded on the south by the southerly side line of New Street, bounded on the west by the westerly side line of George Street, and bounded on the north by the northerly side line of Richmond Street. In addition, there is also included in the so-called "blighted area" a small triangular public square, known as Monument Square, designated as Block 127 on the tax map, and bounded by the southerly side line of Schureman Street, the southerly side line of Livingston Avenue, and the westerly side line of George Street. Said small triangular public square has erected thereon a monument dedicated to veterans of the Civil War.

Plaintiffs contend that L. 1949, c. 187, violates both Art. III, par. 1 and Art. IV, Sec. I, par. 1 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 in that it fails to fix and establish reasonably adequate standards as a guide to municipal authorities to whom the act delegates legislative power; that the determination of "blight" authorized by said statute constitutes a "taking" for which compensation must be provided, but that the failure of the statute to provide for compensation to the property owners violates Art. I, par. 20 of the New Jersey Constitution; that the act in question constitutes special legislation in violation of Art. IV, Sec. VII, pars. 7 and 8 of the New Jersey Constitution; and that the said act violates the due process and equal protection clauses of both the 14 th Amendment to the Federal Constitution and Art. I, pars. 1 and 5 of the New Jersey Constitution. Plaintiffs also contend that the title to the said act does not conform to the requirements of Art. IV, Sec. VII, par. 4 of the New Jersey Constitution in that the body of the act authorizes a carrying out of the redevelopment project by a private person or corporation, whereas there is nothing in the title of the act indicating any such provision.

Further, plaintiffs contend that the determination of "blight" made by the planning board of the city and approved by the governing body of the city is fatally defective in that there is included in the so-called "blighted area" properties,

including the properties of the plaintiffs, that are not in fact or in law "blighted" and that there was no substantial evidence to support a finding of blight with respect to some of said properties.

Further plaintiffs contend that the public hearing required by section 4 of the act in question (N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.4) was improper and illegal in that the hearing was carried on in a confused, arbitrary, unreasonable and unfair manner; that the planning board failed to limit the hearing to persons interested or who would be affected by the determination of blight and to confine the hearing to relative issues; the planning board failed and refused to hear interested persons and proofs in determination that the area was blighted; that the hearing was terminated before all persons interested in and opposed to the determination of "blight" were afforded an opportunity to be heard; and that the hearing in divers other respects did not comply with the requirements of the statute.

By written stipulation (Exhibit P-1), the parties agreed that plaintiffs are the owners of certain properties in the so-called "blighted area"; that the defendant city is a municipal corporation and the defendant housing authority is a body corporate and politic created by and an agency and instrumentality of the defendant city; that by ordinance adopted September 6, 1949 the city created, constituted, designated and authorized the housing authority to act as redevelopment agency of the city under the laws of New Jersey and to act as "Local Public Agency" under Titles 1 and 3 of the Federal Housing Act of 1949 (Public Law 171, 81 st Congress) 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1401 et seq. , 1451 et seq.; that on December 13, 1954, in response to requests of said redevelopment agency and in purported compliance with L. 1949, c. 187 and the Federal Housing Act of 1949 (Public Law 171, 81 st Congress), defendant planning board adopted a resolution determining a certain area to be a "blighted area" within the alleged meaning of L. 1949, c. 187; that on January 18, 1955 the governing body of the city adopted a resolution concurring in and approving the finding

of the planning board; that plaintiffs' properties are within the "blighted area" determined by the planning board; that the planning board did conduct a public hearing starting about 8 P.M. on December 1, 1954 and ending about 12:25 A.M. on December 2, 1954; and that all procedural statutory requirements respecting the steps leading to the public hearing, adopting of resolutions and findings and service of notices and service of true copies of the determination were complied with, excepting only that plaintiffs contend:

1. The resolution adopted by the city directing the defendant planning board as the agency to make determination of "blight" erroneously required a determination to be made in accordance with R.S. 40:55-21, an inapplicable statute.

2. The description employed in the notices and determination was vague and not clear.

3. The planning board determined that the area was "blighted" within the meaning of L. 1949, cc. 187 and 300, which was improper.

4. The report submitted by the planning board to the city commissioners was improper in that it failed to submit therewith full and complete minutes of the public hearing, its finding and reasons therefor, and names of all persons appearing before it.

5. The planning board improperly refused to adjourn the public hearing held December 1, 1954 to a fixed future date to be publicly announced; failed to announce at the conclusion of the said hearing whether the hearing was closed or adjourned and purported to adjourn the hearing solely for the purpose of making personal inspection of the allegedly "blighted area," but notwithstanding thereafter purported to afford objectors an invitation to submit additional factual data without, in fact, affording them such opportunity and then, without notice, called the adjourned public hearing to order.

It is further stipulated by counsel for the respective parties that certain enumerated documents, photographs, etc. , be admitted in evidence and marked; that the exhibits mentioned were in fact considered by the planning board in

making its determination; that at the public hearing on December 1, 1954 counsel for the plaintiffs requested the planning board to conduct a personal inspection of the allegedly "blighted area," which inspection was made by the planning board accordingly; and a report of such inspection was filed as part of the planning board's report and findings. Also stipulated that no stenographic transcript of testimony and proceedings at the public hearing was requested to be made by the plaintiffs; that such transcript as was made was ordered by and for the private use of the planning board; that the transcript ordered by the planning board shall be marked in evidence as an exhibit by consent of the parties; that such transcript be supplemented by marking in evidence prepared statements of Robert E. Ross II and Samuel Hoffman, which, it was agreed, were read in full at the public hearing on December 1, 1954; that the said transcript is incomplete and that both parties reserved the right to introduce further evidence of the matters and things said and done at the said public hearing; and that no transcript of the said hearing was filed by the planning board with the city commission or with the city clerk. Also stipulated that no final approval of the proposed redevelopment project affecting the allegedly "blighted area" has been received from the federal authorities up to the date of the stipulation, and that the resolution of the city commissioners approving and concurring in the findings of the planning board was adopted on January 18, 1955 and shall be admitted and marked in evidence by consent.

In addition to the facts stipulated as above, from the pleadings, proofs, exhibits and also from my personal inspection of the allegedly "blighted area," made in company with counsel for the respective parties, I find that the area in question constitutes one of the oldest sections of the City of New Brunswick, that except for a few individual structures scattered throughout the area in question and except for the George Street frontage hereafter mentioned, the buildings generally in the area are very old, present a dilapidated and sorry appearance, are crowded together with

inadequate space for light and air, many of the buildings obviously constitute fire hazards, large numbers of tenants of mixed racial origin occupy the old dilapidated structures as living quarters (presumably because of low rentals), and generally the physical conditions throughout the area may fairly be characterized as constituting a hazard to health, safety and good morals. I think it no exaggeration to describe the area generally, excepting the frontage on George Street, as a festering sore in an otherwise attractive city.

Photographs admitted in evidence and marked respectively Exhibits D-21(a), D-21(b), D-21(c), D-21(d), D-21(e), D-21(f), D-21(g), and D-21(h), all bear witness to the conditions above described.

Included in the so-called "blighted area" are two blocks extending from New Street to Liberty Street, along the easterly side of George Street. George Street is the principal, or at least one of the principal retail shopping streets in the City of New Brunswick. There are seven separate buildings or structures within the two blocks fronting the east side of George Street, three of which may be described as structurally sound buildings, although quite old, and the remaining four of which are very old and obsolete. Most of the lots fronting George Street are of very shallow depth as indicated by Exhibit D-9. The dilapidated condition of buildings and the conditions constituting a slum area cannot properly be ascribed to the buildings within the two blocks fronting the east side of George Street above mentioned. However, those buildings on the easterly side of George Street within the two blocks mentioned constitute a sort of a front for the terribly depressing conditions existing immediately in their rear, and it is difficult to conceive how a redevelopment of the "blighted area" could well be accomplished without including therein the George Street frontage. In fact, George Street would appear to constitute the only natural boundary line along the westerly side of the "blighted area." It would be highly impracticable to adopt the rear property line of the properties fronting on the easterly side of George Street as the westerly boundary

line of the "blighted area," because to do so would produce a highly irregular line, with sharp angles, which at some points would come within less than 50 feet of the established easterly line of George Street.

Nor can the small triangular plot adorned by the monument spoken of above, bounded by George Street, Schureman Street and Livingston Avenue and designated as Block 127 (Exhibit D-9) be properly described as a "blighted area." However, the redevelopment plan that has been formulated for this whole area does not contemplate elimination of either the small triangular park nor destruction of the existing monument, but merely contemplates a slight shifting of the position of the park and monument in connection with the realignment of certain streets as a part of the redevelopment plan.


(N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1 et seq.)

Plaintiffs attack the constitutionality of the statute upon several grounds ...

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