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Morristown Road Associates v. Mayor and Common Council

Decided: August 31, 1978.


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


By this motion plaintiff seeks a summary determination on the second count of its complaint wherein it demands judgment declaring invalid an amendment to the zoning ordinance of the Borough of Bernardsville establishing a design review committee and providing for the review of site plans by that committee. Plaintiff's attack upon this amendment is founded upon the objection that the standards set forth in the ordinance for use by the planning board and design review committee are so broad and vague as to be incapable of being objectively applied, thereby permitting arbitrary action by these agencies in the review of site plan applications. We agree that the ordinance is defective in this respect.

The adequacy of standards governing the application of aesthetic requirements to proposed land use and development, although the subject of judicial consideration in other jurisdictions, has not previously been considered in New Jersey.

The ordinance in question was adopted by the borough on January 23, 1978 for the stated purposes of enhancing the desirability of the borough as a place of residence and employment, preserving property values and promoting the general welfare. These objectives were sought to be attained

by "fostering good quality of design and attractive appearance of property, preserving and enhancing natural features and the natural environment, contributing to the amenities and attractiveness of an area * * *, creating sufficient utility and circulation networks which insure the safe and convenient movement of traffic, and encouraging the most appropriate use and development of the property and adjacent properties." A citizens advisory committee, designated as the design review committee, was established by the ordinance, for the purpose of assisting the planning board, but without power to take official action required of the planning board, in the review of site plans involving new buildings with respect to the design standards set forth in the ordinance. All such site plans were required to be submitted to the design review committee for its recommendation and report to the planning board. The standards to be utilized by the design review committee and the planning board in reviewing site plans are set forth in the ordinance as follows:

(d) Design Standards. The following standards shall be utilized by the Planning Board and by the Design Review Committee in reviewing all site and building plans. These standards are intended to provide a frame of reference for the applicant in the development of site and building plans as well as a method of review for reviewing authority. These standards shall not be regarded as inflexible requirements nor are they intended to discourage creativity, invention and innovation, nor shall they be used to dictate to an applicant the adherence to a particular architectural style.

(1) Preservation of Landscape. The landscape shall be preserved in its natural state, insofar as practicable and where desirable by minimizing tree and soil removal, and any grade changes shall be in keeping with the general appearance of neighboring developed areas. Landscape treatment that is appropriate to the area and the terrain and which will enhance the overall appearance of the site shall be employed.

(2) Relation of Proposed Buildings to Environment. Proposed structures shall be related harmoniously to the terrain and to existing buildings in the vicinity that have a visual relationship to the proposed buildings. Such relationship shall be achieved by:

(2.1) Architectural design which is harmonious with the character of existing development.

(2.2) The use of exterior colors, facade or roof materials or the combination of colors and materials that are harmonious.

(2.3) The relationship of design features such as height and mass, building proportions, roof lines, building projections and ornamental features that will create a coordinated and harmonious appearance.

(3) Design of Building Walls. All walls are to be constructed of durable materials such as brick, stone, glass, pre-cast concrete and wood when properly treated. Where durability and performance are questionable, the applicant may be asked to provide a manufacturer's guarantee or proof of durability from an independent testing laboratory ...

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