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Home Builders League of South Jersey Inc. v. Township of Berlin

Decided: February 23, 1978.

HOME BUILDERS LEAGUE OF SOUTH JERSEY, INC., A NEW JERSEY NON-PROFIT CORPORATION, AWARD HOMES, INC., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, CHIUSANO BROS., INC., A NEW YORK CORPORATION QUALIFIED TO DO BUSINESS IN NEW JERSEY, LINCOLN PROPERTY CO., N.E., INC., A TEXAS CORPORATION QUALIFIED TO DO BUSINESS IN NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFFS, AND STANLEY C. VAN NESS, PUBLIC ADVOCATE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, SENIOR CITIZENS ADVOCATE CENTER, GRAY PANTHERS OF SOUTH JERSEY, SOUTH JERSEY TENANTS ORGANIZATION, PLAINTIFFS-INTERVENORS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF BERLIN, BOROUGH OF PINE HILL, BOROUGH OF STRATFORD AND TOWNSHIP OF VOORHEES, ALL MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS



Talbott, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Talbott

In this action in lieu of prerogative writs the Home Builders League of South Jersey, Inc., an incorporated, nonprofit association whose members are in the business of housing construction and related enterprises in the Camden County region; Award Homes, a New Jersey corporation, Chiusano Bros., Inc., a New York corporation qualified to do business in New Jersey, and Lincoln Property Co., N.E., Inc., a Texas corporation qualified to do business in New Jersey (hereinafter Builders) sue four municipalities in Camden County -- the Borough of Stratford, the Borough of Pine Hill, Berlin Township and Voorhees Township -- challenging the provisions in their zoning ordinances which require that the homes built in their towns contain certain minimum square feet. Stanley C. Van Ness, Public Advocate of the State of New Jersey, and several public interest organizations -- the Senior Citizens Advocate Center, the Gray Panthers of South Jersey and the South Jersey Tenants Organization -- have intervened as plaintiffs.

Each of the four defendant municipalities is in the Camden region or housing market as designated by the Supreme Court in Southern Burlington Cty. NAACP v. Mt. Laurel Tp. , 67 N.J. 151, app. dism. and cert. den. 423 U.S. 808, 96 S. Ct. 18, 46 L. Ed. 2d 28 (1975). The communities lie within a 15-mile radius of the City of Camden and within the "developing" suburban ring of the region.

Each community is extensively linked to the Camden-Philadelphia metropolitan area as well as other areas of the region and State by the New Jersey Turnpike, Interstate 295, Routes 30, 206 and 130, the Atlantic City Expressway and New Jersey Routes 73 and 70. The PATCO Hi-Speed Line also operates within the vicinity of each of these towns. Statistics show that each town has experienced substantial growth since 1960 and is an attractive candidate for continued growth and development.

Defendants' zoning ordinances require minimum floor space as follows:

House Square Footage

Municipality Minimums Notes

Highest Lowest

1. Berlin Tp. 1600 1100 The three single-family resi-

dence zones allow identical

uses. They only vary in lot

and building size require-

ments.

2. Pine Hill 1500 1100 Condominium and townhouse

mins. at 1000 and 1250;

Senior Citizen Gardens al-

lowed at 450.

3. Stratford 1456 1200 House mins. vary only by

style of house, not zone.

4. Voorhees 1600 1100 1100 and 1200 sq. foot zones

are virtually full, thus re-

quiring almost all new

houses in town to be 1600

sq. ft. One zone requires an

extra 400 of floor area for

each bedroom over three,

others do not.

Plaintiffs allege that there is a regional demand for housing units of a smaller size than permitted by these ordinances; that the demand is pressing and urgent, and that continued delay in meeting this demand will compel those in need to suffer prolonged residence in substandard or undesirable housing or to live uneconomically in housing too

large for their requirements. Further, since size is the most important factor in determining housing costs, the arbitrary and unreasonably high, flat square-foot requirements price most housing out of the range of many families, especially the young, the old and the poor. The Public Advocate adds that all of these groups are in need of decent, safe and affordable housing. Builders stand ready, willing and able to construct healthful, high quality attached or detached dwellings in accordance with applicable building codes and other zoning mandates and which will be of a size and cost to meet the needs, desires and resources of this market. They contend that satisfaction of this market demand is frustrated by the arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable provisions for minimum floor space requirements in defendants' zoning ordinances which they contend are illegal as bearing no rational relationship to the health, safety, morals or general welfare of their residents or the public at large and which frustrate the statutory purposes of the recently enacted Municipal Land Use Law, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et seq. Plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors seek either a complete elimination of square foot minimums in the ordinances, allowing the market demand to determine house size, or a reduction in defendants' floor space requirements to a minimum necessary to protect the public health, safety and general welfare.

Defendants' oppositions to those allegations vary. The Borough of Stratford contends that it is a "developed" community and, therefore, its zoning ordinance is not subject to judicial mandate for low or moderate-income housing. Voorhees Township states it has a section in its municipality with no minimum square foot requirements, so the requirement in other zones is valid. Pine Hill says it has provided its fair share of low and moderate-cost housing, so it may set minimum square foot requirements in other areas. Berlin Township states no building can take ...


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