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Smith v. Township Committee of Township of Morris

Decided: June 7, 1968.


Gaulkin, Lewis and Kolovsky. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.


[101 NJSuper Page 273] Defendants Karl Schroth and J. & M. Associates (herein developers) appeal from a judgment of the Law Division in favor of plaintiffs (herein objectors) declaring

null and void the preliminary approval of two major land subdivisions granted by defendants Planning Board and Township Committee of the Township of Morris.

The parcels involved are located in an R-2 residential zone (minimum size of building lots 35,000 square feet) and are approximately 800 feet apart, with frontages on the northerly side of Spring Valley Road. The one is known as the Van Cleve Estates or Cooper Tract, and the other as the Eggert Tract. In voiding the approvals, the trial court held that the board and township committee disregarded the provisions of the township's Land Subdivision Ordinance restricting to 600 feet the length of dead-end streets and that their action in so doing represented an "arbitrary exercise of zoning authority."

It is here argued (1) the board had the power to approve subdivision plans which provide for streets in excess of 600 feet and properly exercised it, and (2) the Eggert subdivision does not contain a dead-end street in excess of that length.

A resume of the background facts will be helpful in casting the critical issues in their proper perspective.

The Cooper Tract

The Van Cleve development consists of approximately ten acres and contemplates eight building lots with a single access street, "Charlotte Lane." The street begins at Spring Valley Road and the westerly borderline of the tract, and follows an irregular course through the property for a distance of approximately 1100 feet, terminating with a cul-de-sac in the northeasterly corner of the property.

Developers' initial application to the board was for a minor subdivision of two lots out of the ten acres. It was reviewed at a conference meeting on April 6, 1964, at which time concern was evinced as to development plans for the remaining acreage. Subsequently, a plat for the entire tract was submitted for classification and, on July 20, 1964, it was classified as a major subdivision. Within a month thereafter application

was made for preliminary approval and then followed a series of conference meetings, regular meetings and public hearings at which the neighboring plaintiffs and their counsel voiced objections.

The principal problems involved the adequacy of water supply and storm drainage, the installation of sanitary sewers, zoning compliance and the acquisition of easements, all of which necessitated sundry negotiations with the township engineer, board of health, sewer survey committee, water department, county planning board and county park commission. However, at a regular meeting on December 21, 1964 a member of the board made inquiry as to the length of the road, to which the chairman replied, "this is not a permanent dead end street * * * it is up to the discretion of the Board to approve a dead end street of this length if they feel that it will eventually continue through." The minutes of an adjourned hearing on March 15, 1965 reveal that when objectors' engineer was questioned concerning the length of the dead-end street, he "pointed out that the Planning Board has the right to use their own discretion and vary from the provisions of the ordinance," and that the developers' engineer observed, "there are other roads of this type in this municipality and in several other municipalities."

On April 19, 1965 the board granted conditional preliminary approval, whereupon plaintiffs appealed to the township committee, which held a public hearing on June 3. The latter affirmed the action of the board after making the following determination:

"* * * (a) as to all of the matters raised by the appellants, the Township Committee finds and determines that no basis of fact exists to substantiate the appellants' objections to this preliminary approval; (b) as to all of the actions taken by the Planning Board, all of which have been reviewed by this Committee, the Committee finds that the Planning Board acted properly in all respects; (c) that McCrosky-Reuter, Morris Township Planning Consultants, having reviewed the ...

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