[143 NJSuper Page 343] This case presents the heretofore unanswered question of whether under the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, L. 1971, c. 361, N.J.S.A. 20:3-1 et seq. , the date as of which compensation shall be determined can be other than the date of the constitutional taking.*fn1 The case arises out of activities of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC) and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (Authority) in proposing and condemning the site of the so-called Sports Complex located in East Rutherford. N.J.S.A. 13:17-1 et seq.; N.J.S.A. 5:10-1 et seq. Defendant Giant Realty Associates (Giant) contends that it lost the beneficial use and enjoyment of its meadowland property (Lot 70A, Block 108, Borough of East Rutherford) on June 7, 1972 when HMDC denied Giant certain building and development applications. Giant's property was not subject to the exercise of the power of eminent domain until April 1973, when the Authority commenced the instant condemnation action by filing its complaint and
declaration of taking with the court pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-1 et seq.
The instant issue has been raised in the form of a pretrial motion by Giant. It is plain that the court has both the jurisdiction and the duty to hear and decide the issue at this posture of the case. N.J.S.A. 20:3-5. The court has requested and received briefs, affidavits, and oral argument. It has listened to amicus curiae argument and has thoroughly considered the measured contentions of all counsel involved. Based upon all the available legal input the court makes the following findings of fact:
On May 10, 1971 the Legislature of the State of New Jersey enacted the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority Law granting the Authority exclusive jurisdiction of a site not to exceed 750 acres in the Hackensack Meadowlands. N.J.S.A. 5:10-1 et seq.
On June 11, 1971, at an executive meeting of HMDC, the Authority requested that HMDC deny, without prejudice, all pending building and subdivision applications in the area of the proposed Sports Complex. HMDC adopted a resolution on that date which instructed its chief engineer to deny the pending applications without prejudice. Giant did not have an application pending on that date.
On December 28, 1971 the first proposed zoning map of HMDC showing the present site of the Sports Complex was released to the public. The property of Giant Realty was indicated as being within the Sports Complex zone on that date. On or about April 1, 1972 Giant applied to the Borough of East Rutherford for a building permit to construct a gasoline service station on the property in question. The building permit was granted by the borough on April 4, 1972. On April 6, 1972 Giant applied the HMDC for the issuance of a zoning certificate and building permit to utilize its property for a gasoline service station.
On May 4, 1972 Giant entered into a 20-year lease with Amerada-Hess Corporation, wherein Hess agreed to lease
the instant property from Giant for the operation of a gasoline service station.
On June 6, 1972 Giant filed an order to show cause and complaint in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, seeking to recover damages as a result of HMDC's refusal to permit Giant to utilize the subject property, and seeking to require HMDC to issue a building permit and zoning certificate.
On June 7, 1972 HMDC informed Giant by letter that HMDC had denied Giant's application relying upon the prior policy of HMDC of denying development applications to property owners situated in the Sports Complex zone.
On June 23, 1972 a hearing was held before Judge (now Justice) Pashman and, pursuant to the court's oral opinion, an order was entered dismissing defendant's complaint without prejudice.
On July 28, 1972 defendant filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. On March 22, 1973 the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Defendant's petition for certification was denied. 68 N.J. 63 (1973).
On April 24, 1973 the Authority instituted the instant eminent domain proceedings by the issuance of an order to show cause and the filing of a complaint and declaration of taking. The Authority also deposited $85,200 with the Clerk of the Superior Court as estimated compensation for the taking. N.J.S.A. 20:3-18.
On June 6, 1974 commissioners were appointed to determine the compensation to be paid Giant for the taking. On April 11, 1975, after conducting hearings, the Commissioners issued their report and rendered an award of $200,800. Both the Authority and Giant have appealed the award of the commissioners pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-13(a) and R. 4:73-6(a).
The date of valuation upon which the commissioners determined the compensation to be paid Giant does not appear from the record, briefs or other papers filed with the court. It is of no consequence, however, what date the
Commissioners utilized, since their award is not evidential at the hearing on appeal (trial de novo). N.J.S.A. 20:3-13(b). It is for this court to determine the proper valuation date for use at the trial de novo.
The court is compelled to note, however, that if commissioners' hearings pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-12 are to have any legal and practical significance and not become a mere exercise of futility, the date of valuation must be settled prior to commissioners' hearings. Indeed, if there are any issues to be decided other than that of value and damages, those issues must be presented and decided by the court at the earliest possible juncture. See State v. Orenstein , 124 N.J. Super. 295, 298 (App. Div. 1973).
However, even if the commissioners used an incorrect -- or at best contested -- valuation date, the court may proceed to settle the issue now without prejudice to both parties. State v. Milkon , 119 N.J. Super. 156, 163-164 (Law Div. 1972). The court is ...