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Grate v. Township of Springfield

Decided: November 5, 1971.


Feller, J.s.c.


The subject property, known as Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Block 21 on the tax map, forms a block front parcel on the northerly side of Morris Avenue between Short Hills Avenue and Lewis Drive, in the Township of Springfield, Union County, New Jersey, and lies across the boundary of two zoning districts. For 150 feet back from Morris Avenue it is in an O District zone (office use). The four lots comprise a unit with a frontage on Morris Avenue extending approximately 277 feet westerly from Short Hills Avenue to Lewis Drive and varying in depth from 195 feet in the center (lot 2), to 118 feet on the Lewis Drive side (lots 3 and 4), and 184 feet on the Short Hills Avenue side (lot 1). The rear portion of approximately 45 feet deep in the center (lot 2), and approximately 34 feet deep on the Short Hills Avenue side (lot 1), is in an S-60 single-family residence zone.

Application was made to the board of adjustment for the purpose of securing a variance to permit the use of the rear portion of the Lots 1 and 2 for O District zone use, the same as the front 150 feet thereof, so as to allow the entire parcel to be uniformly zoned and used for O District use.

In the proceedings on said variance application there was presented before defendant board of adjustment a proposed plan to erect an office building on the subject premises at the corner of Short Hills and Morris Avenues, said building

to be fully within the 150-foot line from Morris Avenue, with the rear portion over the 150-foot line to be used as part of the parking area required for the building under the zoning ordinance. While the said rear portion was nominally approximately 34 feet deep, irregular, because of the fact that 10 feet thereof must be used for the required 10-foot buffer zone between the residential and office zone areas, the land for which the use variance was required actually only consisted of a strip approximately 24 feet deep, irregular, fronting on Short Hills Avenue. Thus, looking at the subject premises from its Short Hills Avenue aspect, the land in question lies on Short Hills Avenue at a point 150 deep from Morris Avenue, to a point approximately 184 feet deep from Morris Avenue (as distinguished from the land across the street from the subject premises, on the other side of Short Hills Avenue, where it is in an office zone to a point 200 feet deep from Morris Avenue).

After full hearings the board of adjustment granted the application, recommending to the township committee by resolution dated April 1, 1969 that the same be approved subject to three conditions on the use of the property with respect to vehicular drives and buffer zones. The conditions were as follows:

(1) There shall be no vehicular entrance or exit drive between said property and Short Hills Avenue.

(2) The main entrance and exit drive shall be from and to Morris Avenue with a secondary drive, if applicants desire connected to Lewis Drive with a left hand turn only on exiting.

(3) A ten (10) foot deep buffer area shall be maintained along the entire rear property line and between the parking area and the adjoining properties in the S-60 District. The buffer strip shall consist of evergreen shrubs and a six (6) foot high close woven wood fence, as required in Section 9-E-10 of the Zoning Ordinance and permanently maintained.

Thereafter, proceedings on the board of adjustment's recommendation were had before the township committee which, at its meeting held on May 27, 1969, denied the application for a use variance.

Thereupon, these proceedings were instituted to review the denial and/or set aside the ordinance as it applies to the subject premises. During the course thereof plaintiffs modified their plans for the office building, relocated it to the corner of Lewis Drive and Morris Avenue, and proceeded with the erection of a three-story office building on that portion of the subject property where such use was permitted. The building is now completed and plaintiffs are occupying and using same.

In April 1968 a joint venture was formed to acquire the subject real property for the purpose of erecting and operating an office building thereon; the joint venture became the plaintiff AMG Associates, a New Jersey partnership, having as its members Vincent J. Apruzzese, Frank X. McDermott and M. David Giardino. Plaintiffs' contract vendors of the subject property acquired it in 1941 and 1944, respectively. At the time of the making of contracts in April and May 1968 with the aforesaid contract vendors, the subject premises were, under the zoning ordinance of 1955 of the Township of Springfield then in effect, located in an LB use district which extended 150 feet from Morris Avenue, with the remainder of the premises in an S-60 use district. The LB district permitted office building use and the S-60 district permitted residence use. In April and May 1968 the zoning ordinance contained section 31-D-30.01, which permitted the board of adjustment in appropriate cases to recommend to the township committee, where the lot lay across the boundary of two districts, that a permit be granted for the extension into the more restricted district of a lawful conforming use permitted in the less restricted district, but for a distance not exceeding 50 feet measured at right angles to such district boundary.

In April and May 1968 there was then in existence a report dated May 1967 prepared by the township planning board in furtherance of a master plan for the township, wherein and whereby the subject premises were placed in

a use zone district for office use to a depth of 200 feet from Morris Avenue.

Subsequently, a zoning ordinance was enacted in September 1968, which is the zoning ordinance now in effect in the Township of Springfield, under and by virtue of which the relief provisions of section 21-D-30.01 of the zoning ordinance of 1955 were eliminated and no comparable provisions for relief were provided. Office building use was provided for, designated as an "O" use district. Specific areas were designated as O zones, and also various areas along Morris Avenue were zoned for office use to a depth of 200 feet from Morris Avenue up to the easterly side of Short Hills Avenue. With reference to the subject premises and for two blocks west of the subject premises, the zoning for office ...

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