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Gruber v. Mayor and Township Committee of Township of Raritan

Decided: March 14, 1962.

JACK GRUBER (AND 6 OTHERS), PARTNERS T/A RARITAN ASSOCIATES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, AND MESTAL ESTATES, ETC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE MAYOR AND TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF RARITAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. (DOCKET NO. L-2261-59.); JACK GRUBER (AND 6 OTHERS), PARTNERS T/A RARITAN ASSOCIATES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, V. THE MAYOR AND TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF RARITAN, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. (DOCKET NO. L-4759-59.)



Gaulkin, Kilkenny and Herbert. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, J.A.D.

Gaulkin

In 1956 plaintiffs' predecessors in title assembled a 131-acre tract and began a residential development with the approval and cooperation of the township officials. After plaintiffs and their predecessors in title (hereafter collectively called plaintiffs) had put in some roads and other improvements, started four houses, and expended or committed themselves to obligations which they allege totaled more than $500,000, the township, in 1959, took an area of 157 acres which contained all of plaintiffs' land from the residential zone, changed it to light industrial, and forbade residential uses therein altogether. By a proceeding in lieu of prerogative writs, plaintiffs challenged the validity of the amending ordinance and the refusal of the township to permit them to complete their residential development. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the township, and plaintiffs appeal.

Plaintiffs argue first that, assuming municipalities generally have the power to create industrial zones and to exclude residential uses therefrom, the exercise of that power in the case at bar was unreasonable and arbitrary and confiscated their property without compensation or due process because there is no market for industrial land in the rezoned area nor will there be in the reasonably foreseeable future, whereas there is great demand for residences.

Secondly, say plaintiffs, if the ordinance be deemed otherwise valid, the township is estopped from enforcing it against plaintiffs' property because of the dealings between plaintiffs and the township, and plaintiffs' expenditures on the strength thereof.

After the acreage was assembled it was divided into five sections. Subdivision plats for all five sections and a drainage plan therefor were prepared by Craig Finnegan between June and October 1956. Mr. Finnegan was the township engineer. On July 27, 1956 resolutions were adopted by the township committee approving the plats of sections 1, 2 and 3, but contingent upon execution of a developer's

agreement, a performance bond, construction of a sewage disposal plant and the filing of the plats. Each plat was to be filed within one year, but no time limits were fixed for the performance of the other contingencies. On the same date the township committee passed a resolution authorizing the formation by plaintiffs of the Raritan Valley Sanitation Company, which was to construct and operate the disposal plant. On August 23, 1956 a developer's agreement and a bond for performance relating to section 1 were executed.

On October 1, 1956 the township committee, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55-1.4 and 1.14, adopted ordinances establishing a planning board and regulating land subdivision. Prior to that time the township had no planning board and no ordinances regulating land subdivision; the plats apparently had been approved pursuant to the Map Act, L. 1953, c. 358. On November 12 the township committee amended said land subdivision ordinance to postpone its effective date to December 12, 1956. This was done to permit approval of the plats of sections 4 and 5 by the township committee prior to the assumption by the planning board of land subdivision control, and on December 7, 1956 the township committee did approve the plats for sections 4 and 5, by resolutions similar in content to those by which sections 1, 2 and 3 had been approved.

On November 5 and 6, 1956 building permits and board of health permits were issued for the construction of four model homes in section 1. In the spring of 1957 work was commenced on these homes, curbs and sidewalks were installed in front of them and some road grading and gravelling was done.

On July 25, 1957 the township committee adopted a resolution which granted the developers until August 9, 1957 to enter into the developer's agreements respecting sections 2 and 3 and extending to the same date the time for the filing of the plats of sections 1, 2 and 3 in the Monmouth County Clerk's office. On August 7, 1957 the

township committee adopted a resolution further extending the time for the execution of the developer's agreements relating to sections 2 and 3 and the time for the filing of the plats of sections 1, 2 and 3 until November 1, 1957. On October 31, 1957 the developer's agreements and the bonds to secure performance thereof relating to sections 2 and 3 were executed, and approval of the plats of the three sections was endorsed thereon by the mayor and the township clerk. The plats were approved by the Monmouth County Planning Board on November 1, 1957 and were filed on that day in the Monmouth County Clerk's office. The plats carried the following certification of township engineer Finnegan:

"I have carefully examined this map and find that it conforms with all the laws of the State and municipal ordinances and requirements applicable thereto."

On November 14, 1957 the township committee adopted a resolution extending the time for filing the plats of sections 4 and 5 "for an additional two years and until December 7, 1959." It appears that the reason for the various extensions was the developers' financial problems, and work on the development did not go forward to any substantial degree from 1957 until plaintiffs took over in November 1958. The four houses were not completed, no others were started, and there was no further installation of roads, sewers or other improvements.

On July 14, 1958 the township adopted its first zoning ordinance. The zoning map which was part of the ordinance sketched the lots just as they were laid out in the plaintiffs' subdivision, in a large area zoned for residential use. In addition, the zoning ordinance ...


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