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American National Red Cross v. Shotmeyer Brothers Inc.

Decided: November 22, 1961.

THE AMERICAN NATIONAL RED CROSS, A CORPORATION CHARTERED BY THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS, THE RIDGEWOOD NEW JERSEY CHAPTER OF THE AMERICAN RED CROSS, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, RIDGEWOOD RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, JOSEPH A. DONOVAN, FRANK H. JOHNSON, STEPHEN KUNO, RICHARD A. PARSEKIAN, THOMAS RUSHEN, GORDON SHELLARD, KATHRYN STREETER, WILLIAM WARD AND DOROTHY G. WRAY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SHOTMEYER BROTHERS, INC., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, ALBERT R. GUDRIAN, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT OF BUILDINGS OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, AND HOMER G. MACVEAN, FRANKLIN B. REINAUER AND ROBERT OLSON, MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF RIDGEWOOD, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Gaulkin, Kilkenny and Herbert. The opinion of the court was delivered by Herbert, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

Herbert

[70 NJSuper Page 438] The plaintiffs sued in the Chancery Division to enjoin the defendant Shotmeyer Brothers, Inc. from constructing a gasoline station in Ridgewood, Bergen County. After trial a final judgment was entered denying injunctive relief and this appeal by the plaintiffs followed. Although The American National Red Cross and The Ridgewood Chapter of The American Red Cross have, since the appeal was taken, withdrawn

from participation, no question has been raised about the standing of the other plaintiffs to go forward.

The gasoline station -- which has now been built -- is next door to a building at 74 Godwin Avenue owned by The American National Red Cross. Do the activities carried on at the Red Cross building and features of that structure make the Shotmeyer station illegal under Ridgewood's zoning ordinance? That is the basic question on this appeal, as it was in the court below.

Section 15 of the ordinance reads in part as follows:

"(c) Public Garages, Filling and Service Stations:

(2) No part of any filling station, bus terminal, or public garage accommodating more than five motor vehicles, nor any driveway, entrance or exit to or from the same, shall be within 300 feet of any lot line of any plot on which is located any building used as a theatre, auditorium, or other place of public assembly seating over one hundred persons, or used as a church, hospital, college, school, or institution for dependents or children, or any public playground or athletic field."

The gasoline station is only about 35 feet from the Red Cross building. But is that building, within the terms of the ordinance, used as a "place of public assembly seating over one hundred persons, or used as a * * * hospital, college, school * * *"? We have not been referred to any definitions or declaration of standards in the zoning ordinance which will help to answer this question, so the solution of the problem must be found outside of the ordinance itself.

At the trial the plaintiffs showed that the Red Cross building had been acquired in 1942. It was originally built as a three-story frame residence containing about 14 rooms. Then it was used for a restaurant. After purchase by the Red Cross it was remodeled. Testimony of the president of the Ridgewood chapter showed current use of the building by the Red Cross for a number of its activities and by some unrelated organizations, e.g. , Gray Ladies, Nurses Aides, Braille Committee, first aid classes,

Junior Red Cross, Home Nursing Service, Nightingales, Community Chest fund meetings, Girl Scout meetings, American Cancer Society, Visiting Nurse Service, American Heart Fund, and a few others. On the first floor is an assembly room and there are committee rooms on the second and third floors. The basement is used by the Community Thrift Shop.

The chapter president also said that when there is need all the available chairs in the building -- including a stock of folding ones -- can be placed in the first floor assembly room to give it a seating capacity of 125. He and other witnesses testified to a number of meetings in the room at which about 125 people were present. It was also shown that on occasion several meetings have been conducted simultaneously in separate rooms of the building, attended by an unspecified number of people.

When application was made for a building permit for the gasoline station Mr. Gudrian, the acting building inspector of Ridgewood, examined the Red Cross building. He took measurements and prepared a written report which was marked in evidence. It reads:

"RED CROSS BUILDING -- GODWIN AVENUE

a. The Basement Area is occupied by the Thrift Shop, which retails used clothing and other items. Area open to the public is 937 square feet. The maximum number ...


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