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Gruber v. Mayor and Township Committee of Township of Raritan

Decided: May 9, 1961.

JACK GRUBER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE MAYOR AND TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF RARITAN ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Knight, J.s.c.

Knight

[68 NJSuper Page 120] Two separate suits in lieu of prerogative writs were instituted by the plaintiffs, Raritan Associates, a partnership holding legal title to the tract of land in question, and Mestal Estates, a corporation of the State

of New Jersey and purchaser under a contract of sale of a portion of the property, which were consolidated for trial at the pretrial conferences. In the actions plaintiffs seek to set aside an amendment to the zoning ordinance of the Township of Raritan which changed the classification of plaintiffs' land from residential to light industrial, and excluded any residential use. Plaintiffs contend that the amendment is arbitrary and unreasonable and contrary to the zoning purposes expressed in R.S. 40:55-32. Alternatively, they contend that if the amendment is valid they had acquired vested rights in the use of the property in question for residential purposes prior to the passage of the amendment. They also seek to compel the approval of certain subdivision maps and the issuance of certain building permits and certificates of occupancy.

During the years of 1956 and 1957 the Zee Essex Realty Corporation, for the purpose of residential development, assembled the various parcels of land that became the tract in question. This tract contains approximately 130 acres of a triangular piece of land pointing toward the north totaling some 157 acres. The area is bounded on the east by the Garden State Parkway. The base of the triangle is bounded on the south by Bethany Road, which forms the boundary line between Raritan Township and Holmdel Township. The other leg of the triangle, on the west, is bounded by Line Road, the boundary line between Raritan Township and Matawan Township.

In furtherance of the development scheme, subdivision plats were prepared by Craig Finnegan, a licensed engineer and surveyor. (Mr. Finnegan, now deceased, was also the Township Engineer.) The tract was divided into five sections with a separate subdivision map for each section. The subdivision plats of sections one, two and three were submitted to the Township Committee for approval, and on July 26, 1956 resolutions were adopted approving them for filing purposes only, although the street layout and lot subdivision were also approved. However, approval was conditional

upon the execution of a performance agreement with the township, the construction of a sewage disposal plant, and the filing of the maps within one year.

On August 23, 1956 an agreement secured by a performance bond was entered into between Raritan Township and the Raritan Ridge Corporation (apparently a purchaser under a contract of sale, since there is a conflict in the testimony as to whether Raritan Ridge ever had legal title), relating to the development of section one, which provided for an irrevocable dedication of all streets shown on the map of section one, for the grading and surfacing of the streets, and set a final completion date of May 1, 1958. This agreement has never been performed.

On October 1, 1956 the township adopted an ordinance regulating land subdivision and creating a planning board. The effective date of the ordinance was October 2, 1956. On November 12, 1956, however, the township amended the ordinance and suspended its effective date until December 12, 1956, for the purpose of permitting the adoption of resolutions approving sections four and five under the same terms and conditions as sections one, two and three, with the exception that the maps were to be filed by December 7, 1957. The resolutions were adopted on December 7, 1956.

In July, 1957 the Township Committee adopted a resolution extending the time for entering into performance agreements on sections two and three and also extending the time for filing the maps of sections one, two and three until August 7, 1957. On August 7, 1957, by resolution, a further extension was granted until November 1, 1957. On October 31, 1957, the agreements relating to sections two and three were signed by the proper officials of the township and the Zee Essex Realty Corporation, and the maps were filed. Subsequently, on November 14, 1957, the Township Committee adopted a resolution extending the time for the filing of the maps of sections four and five for a period of two years until December 7, 1959. The first zoning ordinance passed by the township was on July 14, 1958, and by

the terms of that ordinance the plaintiffs' land was classified for residential use and remained in such classification until the passage of the amendment of November 23, 1959, now under attack.

THE VALIDITY OF THE NOVEMBER 23, 1959, ZONING AMENDMENT.

Raritan Township covers an area of some five and one-half square miles and is located in Monmouth County. In 1950 the population of the township was 2,763. It was at that time essentially a rural community with scattered clusters of homes and a few commercial establishments. Much of the land area was vacant or devoted to agricultural uses. However, with the advent of the Garden State Parkway in 1954, which runs through Raritan Township, its character changed rapidly. By 1960 the population had exploded to 15,287, with the greatest increase occurring after 1958. This influx created a need for greatly expanded municipal services of all types, particularly school facilities. Currently Raritan Township is running double sessions in all grade schools and has no high school facilities.

Mr. Herbert Smith, zoning and planning consultant for Raritan Township, testified that at present there are 49 classrooms in the township with a maximum capacity of 1,845 pupils, but as of January 31, 1960 the total pupil enrollment was 2,560, necessitating the double sessions. He estimated that by 1964 or 1965 the enrollment from kindergarten through eighth grade would increase by another 2,600 pupils, and to return to single session by such time the municipality will require 113 new classrooms. (Provided the tract in question remains in an industrial zone) To remain on double session 44 additional classrooms will be needed.

In the spring of 1959 the Planning Board, after conferring with Community Planning Associates, a professional planning consultant firm retained by the township,

determined that there was a need for an additional industrial zone, due to the extraordinary increase in population, the severe financial crisis facing the township, and the school problem.

The decision of the Planning Board was prompted by a desire to create a better economic balance in the township. It was felt that industrial development would create higher tax revenue than residential development in any given area, reducing the heavy tax burden placed on the home owner, and, additionally, industry would require less in the way of municipal services, particularly school facilities.

In searching for the proper area to rezone it was decided that the best available location would be the 157-acre tract located on the westerly side of the Parkway, since it is separated from the remainder of the township by the Garden State Parkway, which forms a natural buffer zone, ideal from the planning standpoint, and is in a good location for purposes of transportation. State Highways No. 34 and No. 35 are in close proximity to the tract, and a Parkway exit is only a quarter of a mile away. Also the secondary arteries, Line Road and Bethany Road, furnish ingress and egress from the tract to the Parkway and State Highways No. 34 and No. 35.

On August 19, 1959, after extended discussion and study, the Planning Board recommended to the Township Committee rezoning the entire tract in question as exclusively light industrial. After further study and discussion the Township Committee amended the zoning ordinance on November 23, 1959, in accordance with the recommendations of the Planning Board.

Plaintiffs contend that no changes have taken place which would warrant imposing new use restrictions on their property. They argue that no consideration was given to the suitability of the land for particular uses and that the highest and best use of the land would be for residential purposes. They further contend that restricting the tract to industrial purposes deprives the plaintiffs of the use of

their land since there is no demand for industrial property at present, or in the foreseeable future; that the secondary roads which would be used by industry are inadequate for industrial use; and the tract itself and the surrounding area are mainly devoted to agricultural and residential uses.

Plaintiffs' zoning and planning expert, Mr. Stephen Sussna, testified that in his opinion the tract was unsuitable for industrial use and that the best and proper use would be residential. His conclusion was based on several factors: namely, that the secondary roads, primarily Line Road and Bethany Road, were wholly inadequate for industrial use in their present condition; that improvement would require expensive and extensive condemnation proceedings seriously affecting roadside property; that water facilities were inadequate for industrial purposes; that industrial development would have a detrimental effect on nearby residential areas, particularly along Bethany Road east to Route No. 35, and would create serious ...


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