Michels, Morgan and Kentz.
This is a condemnation case involving the partial taking by plaintiff County of Ocean of 4.84 acres from an unimproved tract of land consisting of 57.86 acres located on Hooper Avenue, opposite its "T" intersection with Fischer Boulevard, in Dover Township, Ocean County, New Jersey. October 21, 1968 was the date fixed by the court for valuation. The commissioners conducted their hearing and awarded the sum of $36,000 for the 4.84 acres taken. Both parties appealed and a trial de novo was held before a jury. The jury awarded defendant property owner $32,000. The county appeals.
The entire tract of land from which the 4.84 acres was taken is irregularly shaped, having 2300 feet of frontage on Hooper Avenue and a depth of 1740 feet. Its topography
varies from below grade to two feet above grade toward the rear. Natural drainage is therefore from the rear of the property towards Hooper Avenue. Portions of the property were, prior to the taking, subject to flooding. It was formerly used as a cranberry bog. Although there are no improvements on the subject property, the land was zoned R-200, permitting single-family residential construction. No application for subdivision had ever been filed.
The portion of the land taken consisted of an irregularly shaped 4.84 acre parcel which included 710 feet fronting on Hooper Avenue to a depth of 467 feet. The purpose of the taking was to provide a jughandle to protect vehicles making a left turn from Hooper Avenue southbound to Fischer Boulevard eastbound, as well as to provide reversal capability due to a center island being installed in Hooper Avenue. The posted speed limits on Hooper Avenue and Fischer Boulevard are 50 mph.
Both parties produced expert testimony on value. Both witnesses adopted the so-called market data approach in estimating the value of the taken parcel, requiring an analysis of sales of comparable property adjusted with respect to time of the sale, location and characteristics of the comparable property. Plaintiff's expert, Joseph D. Palmer, based his valuation upon three comparable sales. The first sale consisted of an irregularly shaped parcel of 39 acres, zoned R-200, immediately adjacent to the subject property, with 380 feet of frontage on Hooper Avenue, which sale took place over three years before the date of valuation. The per acre price of $1666 was adjusted by Palmer for time, location and physical characteristics to $3000. The second sale utilized was of a 15-acre piece of unimproved land, located 500 feet south of the subject property, zoned R-200, from which a per acre price of $1500 was obtained in July 1965, again over three years prior to evaluation date. Similar adjustments to account for the time of the sale, location of the property and its characteristics yielded a valuation of $2700 an acre. The third sale utilized by Palmer was of an irregularly shaped
unimproved parcel consisting of 19 acres, for which a purchaser in July 1965 paid $1500 an acre. This figure was similarly adjusted to $2700. Based on these sales, Palmer was of the opinion that the condemned 4.84-acre piece was valued at $3000 an acre.
John D. Lazarus testified on behalf of defendant property owner. He, too, announced that his opinion as to value was arrived at by applying the market data approach, using comparable sales with the appropriate adjustments. As stated by Lazarus:
I use the market data approach, which is also known as the comparable sales approach, as this is an improved [sic] property and it is the only approach applicable to support the appraiser's opinion. And that means my examination of sales in the area of lands that would be comparable as to size, as to topography, as to location, and as close as possible with zoning. Also for the same type of use.
He was about to offer five such sales, at which point plaintiff requested a hearing, out of the presence of the jury, as to their comparability. The hearing disclosed that four of the five sales relied upon by Lazarus were of parcels for which preliminary subdivision approval had been obtained at the time of sale. Thus, the 1969 Snug Harbor property was sold as an approved subdivision. Defendant admitted that three other sales to which Lazarus was about to refer were also made with respect to acreage for which preliminary subdivision approval had been obtained. The trial judge concluded these were not comparable sales and refused to permit Lazarus to testify with respect to them as affirmative evidence of value. Of the five sales upon which Lazarus relied in arriving at a valuation, only one was left, the 1968 Cypress Mines sale of 104 acres of landlocked land which sold for $1850 an acre. It was also zoned R-200 and located three-quarters of a mile southwest of the subject premises.
On cross-examination of Lazarus, however, the trial court refused to permit plaintiff to interrogate Lazarus with respect to the weight given by ...