This is an action by the West Point Island Civic Association and others seeking to compel the Township Committee of Dover Township to adopt a resolution giving its consent to annexation by the Borough of Lavallette of that part of the township known as West Point Island. The applicable statute is R.S. 40:43-26. The statute provides that land in one municipality may be annexed to another municipality provided certain requirements are met. The area seeking annexation must, inter alia, present a petition signed by at least 60% of the legal voters residing in that area to the governing body of the municipality to which it seeks annexation. According to the statute:
"Such petition shall also have attached thereto a certified copy of a resolution of the governing body of the municipality in which said land is located, consenting to said annexation, which resolution said governing body is hereby authorized and empowered to adopt."
In another phase of this same litigation the Appellate Division interpreted that language to mean that the governing body of the municipality in which the land is located does not have an arbitrary right to withhold consent to the proposed annexation but that any exercise of that power must be made in a "reasonable manner and not in a purely arbitrary way." West Point Island Civic Ass'n v. Dover Township Committee, 93 N.J. Super. 206 (App. Div. 1966).
A plenary hearing in the Law Division followed the Appellate Court's action, at which time the township presented reasons for its decision to deny plaintiff's petition while plaintiff presented evidence in favor of detachment.
West Point Island has been a part of Dover Township since 1767. It is approximately one-half square mile in area, located in Barnegat Bay, and practically contiguous to the Borough of Lavallette, and is separated from the mainland of Dover Township by the width of the bay. It is a 7 1/2-mile trip from West Point Island to the business district of Dover Township by the usual method of travel via the Mathis Bridge. There is a winter population on West Point Island of approximately 84 persons and a summer population of between 2,000 and 2,500. There are about 235 homes on the island. Dover Township, on the other hand, has an area of 44.03 square miles, and according to the 1960 census had a population of 17,414. According to the 1965 tax valuations, West Point Island constituted 1.737% of the total valuation of Dover Township.
At the hearing in the Law Division petitioners introduced evidence to show that:
1. West Point Island is geographically closer to Lavallette than it is to the mainland of Dover Township. In fact, it is nearly contiguous. Moreover, the argument was made that if municipal boundaries were set on "regional" lines, West Point Island would be considered part of the Lavallette "region."
2. Because of geographic proximity, the Lavallette Police and Fire Departments are better able to respond to emergency calls from West Point Island than are the police of Dover Township. In fact, fire protection is now being provided by the Lavallette Volunteer Fire
Company, which is paid for its services in connection with West Point Island by Dover Township.
3. There would not be any appreciable loss of revenue to Dover Township if West Point Island were separated. The difference in the tax rate with or without West Point Island ratables is only four points. Moreover, it is pointed out that this calculation is made without reference to possible savings to Dover Township in being relieved of rendering municipal services.
4. Water is currently being supplied to West Point Island by Lavallette pursuant to the New Jersey Water Policy Commission grant of diversionary rights to Lavallette.
5. The Dover Township Sewage Authority is independent of Dover Township, and in the event of annexation of West Point Island to Lavallette the area to be served by the Authority will remain unchanged.
6. 74% of the taxpayers and 90% of the voters of West Point Island have signified their desire in favor of detachment.
7. The residents of West Point Island use Lavallette as their mailing address and can maintain P.O. boxes in the Lavallette Post Office.
Although Dover Township never gave a specific statement of findings nor made any findings of fact which directly indicate its reasons for denying plaintiff's application, certain conclusions may be drawn from the testimony and evidence elicited at the hearing in the Law Division. Basically, the township's argument against detachment can be summarized as follows:
1. The consent of the township would set a precedent for future action in other areas of the township.
2. Dover Township provides a fine school system as well as many recreational and communal activities, all of which are available to the residents of West Point Island ...