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Griggs v. Borough of Princeton

Decided: June 28, 1960.

BURNETT GRIGGS, ET ALS., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE BOROUGH OF PRINCETON, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Burling, Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.

Burling

I.

INTRODUCTION.

This case arises from an order entered in the Superior Court, Law Division, granting defendants' motion for summary judgment in an action in lieu of prerogative writ, brought by plaintiffs to review determinations of the defendants' planning board and borough council that a certain area in the Borough of Princeton was a "blighted area" as defined by N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1. Plaintiffs prosecuted an appeal to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, from the order granting summary judgment, but while the cause was pending and prior to argument there, defendants filed in this court a motion for direct certification pursuant to R.R. 1:10-1 A, which we granted.

II.

FACTS.

Urban redevelopment in the Borough of Princeton of which the planning board and council determinations complained

of here are but a part, began to take definite shape in early 1955 when the defendant Princeton Housing Authority was designated as the urban development agency for the borough and when the Authority enlisted consultants to prepare a preliminary report on projects to be pursued. The report, submitted to the Authority in September 1957, proposed as a redevelopment area a portion of the borough bounded by John Street on the west, by Witherspoon Street on the east, by Hulfish Street on the south, and by the borough line on the north. Of this area, the portion bounded on the east, west and south by the three streets named above and on the north by Green Street was to be immediately redeveloped. The latter area is bisected by Jackson Street, which parallels Green and Hulfish Streets. The report was accepted by the Housing Authority and submitted to the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency as a preliminary step towards receiving federal assistance in financing the redevelopment. 42 U.S.C.A. ยง 1450 et seq.

In April 1958 the Housing Authority retained consultants to study the area proposed by the preliminary report to be immediately redeveloped. These consultants submitted their final report of the study to the Authority in June 1958. The report was submitted to and approved by the federal agency, permitting the next step toward federal financial assistance to be taken -- local approval of the redevelopment project. Meanwhile, the Authority retained an appraiser to determine the value of the properties to be redeveloped.

The borough council, on November 12, 1958, adopted a resolution instructing the planning board to determine whether the area in the Borough of Princeton bounded by Green, Witherspoon, Hulfish and John Streets was "blighted" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1. The planning board set December 8, 1958, as the date on which a hearing was to be held to receive evidence concerning the question. N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.5 requires that the hearing body give notice of the hearing and of the affected area by publishing this information once each week for two consecutive

weeks in a newspaper in general circulation in the municipality the last publication to occur at least 10 days before the hearing, and by mailing such information to the owners of property located in the affected area, the mailing to occur at least 10 days before the hearing. The planning board met the notice-by-publication requirement by having the necessary information printed in a local newspaper of general circulation on November 20 and 26, 1958. The board did not mail the notices to the affected property owners, however, until December 3, 1958, 5 days before the hearing. Plaintiffs in the instant case filed written objections to the proposed blight determination with the board in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.6. These objections contained the names and addresses of the objectors and requested notification of the planning board's determination.

The hearing took place as scheduled. Plaintiffs objected to the board's failure to mail the notices to the property owners within the time required by the statute, but they did not request that the hearing be postponed. Although plaintiffs and all other interested persons were afforded an opportunity to present evidence relevant to the blight questions, plaintiffs limited their opposition to cross-examination of those speaking in favor of a blight determination. Those who so spoke were Harry W. Hazard, the Executive-Director of the Housing Authority; William F. Harkins, Jr., a member of the firm of consultants to the Housing Authority who studied and reported on the area in question; and Foster D. Jemison, the appraiser employed by the Housing Authority to determine the value of the affected properties.

At the hearing, the Housing Authority consultant read for the record from an abstract of the report prepared by his firm concerning the properties in the area with which the hearing was concerned. According to this report, the affected area contains, not including "accessory buildings," 31 residential structures, two "community" facilities (a church and a former Y.M.C.A. building), and five commercial structures, three of which contain residential apartments.

One of the residences was constructed prior to 1900. The remaining 30 were constructed between 1900 and 1910. Nineteen are "badly dilapidated." Ten have "structural deficiencies." Two are in good condition. Of the total residences, 19 are occupied as single households. Eight are occupied by two or more families in which toilet, sanitary, and kitchen facilities are shared. Four are vacant. The two community facility buildings are in good condition. Three of the commercial buildings are of fairly recent construction and are in good condition, but two are old and in "good to fair" condition. The abstract of the report continues:

"The basic land use problem within the Area is the need for a clearer separation and definition of the residential and commercial sections.

At present the block south of Jackson Street is predominantly occupied by commercial uses related to the central business district.

The block north of Jackson Street is devoted principally to residential uses.

Because Jackson Street is a local service street, it does not have the power to serve as a strong boundary to both divide and buttress the adjacent commercial and residential uses.

This lack of a strong, permanent definition or separation between the commercial and residential areas has proven detrimental to the long-term stability of all the land usage within the area.

Until this problem of deleterious land usage is solved, the residential quality of the land north of Jackson Street, and probably beyond Green Street, will continue to decline; and the area to the south of Jackson Street will never realize its full commercial and taxable potential."

The report concludes:

"The John Street Area should be considered a 'blighted area,' as defined by N.J. Statute (R.S. 40:55-21.1), due to the existence of the following conditions:

(1) The serious dilapidation and obsolescence of at least 19 of the 31 predominantly residential buildings.

(2) The less serious deficiencies in another 10 of the 31 predominantly residential buildings located along Green Street.

(3) The lack of exclusive toilet, sanitary and kitchen facilities in approximately 8 of the 31 residential buildings.

(4) The deleterious land usage within the area due to the lack of a sound and definite separation of the residential and commercial areas and ...


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