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Toms River Affiliates and Lehigh Construction Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection

Decided: February 19, 1976.

TOMS RIVER AFFILIATES AND LEHIGH CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, APPELLANTS,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION; COMMISSIONER OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND COASTAL AREA REVIEW BOARD, RESPONDENTS



Lynch, Larner and Horn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Larner, J.A.D.

Larner

This appeal is focused upon the constitutional validity of the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) adopted in 1973 and the propriety of the denial of a permit thereunder by the State Commissioner of Environmental Protection (Commissioner). N.J.S.A. 13:19-1 et seq.

A brief summary of the provisions of the act is in order in view of the absence of judicial opinions treating with its interpretation or application since its passage.

The Legislature established boundaries for the "coastal area" of the State and declared in its legislative findings that this area constitutes:

It is further declared that the coastal area and the State will suffer continuing and ever-accelerating serious adverse economic, social and aesthetic effects unless the State assists, in accordance with the provisions of this act, in the assessment of impacts, stemming from the future location and kinds of facilities within the coastal area, on the delicately balanced environment of that area.

The Legislature further recognizes the legitimate economic aspirations of the inhabitants of the coastal area and wishes to encourage the development of compatible land uses in order to improve the overall economic position of the inhabitants of that area within the framework of a comprehensive environmental design strategy which preserves the most ecologically sensitive and fragile area from inappropriate development and provides adequate environmental safeguards for the construction of any facilities in the coastal area. [ N.J.S.A. 13:19-2]

The State Department of Environmental Protection (Department) is designated as the agency to administer the act and is granted authority to adopt rules and regulations to effectuate its purposes.

After the declaration of the purposes of the legislation the act proceeds to list the facilities subject to its provisions, among which are included new housing developments of 25 or more dwelling units. N.J.S.A. 13:19-3. Section 5 requires the issuance of a permit by the Commissioner as a condition precedent to construction of a covered facility; and sections 6 and 7 outline the nature of the permit application and its accompanying environmental impact statement. In sections 10 and 11 the act sets forth criteria which must be met for the issuance of a permit by the Commissioner. Provisions are also made for a public hearing before the Commissioner and appellate review of the decision of the Commissioner by the Coastal Area Review Board (Board).

In addition to the foregoing provisions relating to permit requirements the Legislature mandated in section 16 that within two years after the effective date of the act the Commissioner shall prepare an inventory of the environmental resources of the coastal area and its existing facilities and an estimate of the capability of various sections in the area to "absorb and react to man-made stresses." The Commissioner is also directed within three years to develop "alternate long-term environmental management strategies," and within four years to prepare an overall environmental design for the coastal area. All the noted reports of the Commissioner are to be submitted to the Governor and Legislature within the indicated time frames. N.J.S.A. 13:19-16.

Toms River Affiliates is the owner of a 9.5-acre tract of land fronting on and overlooking Toms River in Dover Township, New Jersey, which is within the coastal area described in the statute. The existing site contains nine single-family homes, with the surrounding neighborhood devoted to low-density and low-lying buildings utilized for housing

and offices. Toms River Affiliates entered into a contract to sell the property to Lehigh Construction Company which contemplated its development by construction of a ten-story condominium building containing 220 residential units together with parking and recreational facilities.

Lehigh Construction Company applied to the Commissioner for the statutory permit. After review of the application, supporting documentation, and a public hearing at which Lehigh Construction Company presented evidence in support of the application and interested citizens presented their views in opposition, the Commissioner denied the application in a lengthy opinion dated July 10, 1974. An appeal to the Board resulted in an affirmance by a written decision of January 3, 1975. Lehigh Construction Company and Toms River appeal from that decision.

The initial thrust of appellants' argument is the contention that CAFRA is unconstitutional in that (1) it does not provide adequate standards for its administration prior to the preparation of the studies called for in section 16; (2) the act grants zoning powers to the Commissioner in contravention of the constitutional delegation of such powers to municipalities; (3) the act creates an invalid classification by designating the coastal area delineated therein and omitting other coastal areas; (4) it denies equal protection of the laws; and (5) it constitutes a taking of property without compensation in violation of the 14th Amendment.

We must approach the constitutional argument with the mandate that there is a strong presumption that a statute is constitutional. Male v. Renda Contracting , 64 N.J. 199 (1974), cert. den. 419 U.S. 839, 95 S. Ct. 69, 42 L. Ed. 2d 66 (1975); 2A Sutherland, Statutory Interpretation (4 ed. 1973), § 45.11. This presumption is not overcome unless the statute's repugnancy to the Constitution is clear beyond a reasonable doubt. Harvey v. Essex Cty. Bd. of Freeholders , 30 N.J. 381, 388 (1959); Kochman v. Keansburg Bd. of Ed. , 124 N.J. Super. 203 (Ch. Div. 1973).

I

It is a tenet of constitutional doctrine that the Legislature may not vest unbridled or arbitrary power in an administrative agency but must furnish reasonably adequate standards to guide the agency. N.J. Const. (1947), Art. III, par. 1; N.J. Bell Tel. Co. v. Communications Workers, etc. , 5 N.J. 354, 370 (1950). Nevertheless, it is well established that regulatory legislation often requires general rather than detailed standards. See Ward v. Scott , 11 N.J. 117, 124-125 (1952), for examples of the types of general standards approved in various regulatory statutes. As observed in Ward:

See also, Spiegle v. Beach Haven , 46 N.J. 479, cert. den. 385 U.S. 831, 87 S. Ct. 63, 17 L. Ed. 2d 64 (1966); Wilson v. Long Branch , 27 N.J. 360, 378, cert. den. 358 U.S. 873, 79 S. Ct. 113, 3 L. Ed. 2d 104 (1958); State v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. , 100 N.J. Super. 366 (App. Div. 1968), aff'd 53 N.J. 248 (1969); Davis, Administrative Law Treatise , § 2.10 (1958).

The legislation at issue sets forth specific criteria which must be met for the issuance of a permit for a proposed facility. N.J.S.A. 13:19-10. Many of these criteria may not be relevant to an application for a housing facility. Nevertheless, the standards outlined therein establish an adequately defined checklist for the guidance of the agency in granting or denying a permit -- a checklist which has sufficient flexibility to carry out the purposes of the legislation in light of the rapidly changing conditions and body of scientific knowledge in the area of environmental protection.

Additional standards are delineated in N.J.S.A. 13:19-11 wherein the Commissioner is authorized to deny a permit where he finds that the "proposed facility would violate or tend to violate the purpose and intent of this act as specified in section 2 or if * * * the proposed facility would materially contribute to an already serious and unacceptable level of environmental degradation or resource exhaustion." As already noted, section 2 in turn sets forth the legislative findings relating to the coastal environment.

It should also be noted that the act affords adequate procedural safeguards to insure against unreasonable and unwarranted administrative action. See Motyka v. McCorkle , 58 N.J. 165, 178 (1971). These include provisions for a hearing before the Commissioner and review by the Board. Dissatisfaction with the result of these ...


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