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Kunzler v. Hoffman

Decided: December 5, 1966.

JOHN KUNZLER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
A. RON HOFFMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



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

Proctor

[48 NJ Page 280] This is a zoning variance case. The Township Committee of the Township of Washington, Morris County,

on September 9, 1964 granted a variance to A. Ron Hoffman, M.D., pursuant to a recommendation of the Board of Adjustment, under N.J.S.A. 40:55-39(d). On the suit of Township residents challenging the variance the Law Division sustained the grant, and this judgment was affirmed by the Appellate Division. We granted certification. 47 N.J. 86 (1966).

The Township of Washington is in the southwest corner of Morris County, and according to the census of 1960 its population is 3,330. Of the total land the major portion is used for farming, some one-third is undeveloped, around 5% is residential, and about 1% is commercial and industrial.

On May 27, 1964 Dr. Hoffman applied to the Board of Adjustment of the Township for a variance to build a hospital for emotionally disturbed adults and children. He held an option to purchase 40 acres situated almost in the center of a 260-acre tract owned by James and Viola Duffy. The hospital was to be privately owned and operated for profit. The 40 acres were in an area designated R-1 by the zoning ordinance. Permitted uses in R-1 include: detached single family dwellings, farms, professional offices in residences, parks and playgrounds, public buildings, public and private schools, churches, kennels (maximum 10 dogs), boarding houses (maximum 6 guests), nursing homes (maximum 10 patients), undertaking establishments, and under paragraph 1-6: "Eleemosynary, charitable and philanthropic institutions but not including hospitals exclusively for the confinement of contagious diseases or for the insane." Dr. Hoffman sought a variance for his hospital because it was not one of the uses expressly permitted in the R-1 zone.

At the meeting of the Board of Adjustment on June 16, 1964 counsel for Dr. Hoffman represented that there were only two private hospitals for emotionally disturbed persons in New Jersey, namely, Fair Oaks at Summit and Carrier Clinic at Belle Mead. He said that there was an urgent need for additional hospitals of this type because both public and private hospitals for such persons were greatly overcrowded.

The proposed hospital would be operated by a private corporation known as River Mount, Inc.*fn1 It would cost about one million dollars, be fire resistant, provide its own sewerage and water, and would have grounds attractively landscaped. The applicant represented that plans for the proposed hospital had been submitted to the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies and exceeded the State's minimum specifications. The hospital would have a capacity of 90 patients and would employ about 60 persons exclusive of kitchen help and outside laborers. The patients would be emotionally disturbed persons who required an average of three to four weeks of treatment; those needing more extended treatment would be referred to other institutions. Alcoholics and drug addicts would not be admitted unless taken for emotional problems which could be helped by the hospital's regular treatment. Patients would be allowed the freedom of the grounds only within a few days of their release. (At oral argument before this Court counsel for Dr. Hoffman stipulated that the hospital would not accept patients requiring physical restraint.)

Dr. Hahn, of the Division of Mental Health and Hospitals, New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies, confirmed the applicant's representations as to the public benefit of the proposed hospital, and testified that there was an urgent need for additional hospitals of this nature. Dr. Hahn further testified that in his experience with a mental hospital located in a choice residential neighborhood the initial opposition of the community changed as the actual operation of the hospital became better known.

Township residents also appeared and spoke at this meeting. Of the 40 or 50 then present a majority opposed the

variance claiming that the presence of such a hospital would: (1) create a danger to adjoining residents, (2) depreciate the value of the surrounding property, and (3) cause additional municipal costs which would more than offset additional tax revenues. A petition containing the signatures of 119 residents opposing the variance was presented to the board. However, the only resident who was a near neighbor (except for the sellers who retained some 220 ...


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