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Round Valley Inc. v. Township of Clinton

Decided: March 5, 1980.


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County.

Matthews, Ard and Polow.

Per Curiam

[173 NJSuper Page 47] Defendants appeal from a judgment of the Law Division invalidating the Township of Clinton's land use ordinance*fn1 as it applied to plaintiff's property. The trial judge found the ordinance to be impermissibly exclusionary to the extent that it did not make adequate provision for the municipality's fair share of the least-cost housing needs in its housing region.

Plaintiff Round Valley, Inc., owned a 790-acre tract of land in Clinton Township located just south of the intersection of Interstate Route 78 and State Highway 31. The tract consisted of two parcels located on opposite sides of Route 31: the Beaverbrook site, which comprises 321 acres on the west side of Route 31 and includes the 150-acre Beaverbrook Country Club and Golf Course, and the Gobel tract, which is located on the east side of Route 31 and comprises 469 acres. Prior to this litigation the Beaverbrook tract had been zoned for residential use characterized as R-3 (one-acre minimum lot size). The Gobel tract was zoned for Research-Office-Manufacturing (ROM) development and had been for some time prior to its purchase by Round Valley, Inc.

Plaintiff proposed to construct a Planned Unit Development (PUD)*fn2 consisting of 3500 units at a density of 4.5 units an acre on the two tracts. The proposal was submitted to the township planning board in January 1974 at an informal meeting between members of the board and representatives of Round Valley, Inc. Plaintiff was advised that no action would be taken upon the PUD proposal until the planning board had completed its revision of the township's zoning ordinance and a public meeting had been held concerning the plan. Prior to submission of the proposal the township council had imposed a building moratorium which was to last through December 1974.

In March 1975 the members of the township council and the planning board met with representatives of plaintiff and informed plaintiff that it would be at least another year before the township's planner could sufficiently evaluate the PUD proposal so as to permit the planning board to act on it.

On July 21, 1975, the township planner submitted a report to the planning board which recommended that no action be taken on plaintiff's proposal until the land use portion of the township's master plan was completed. The land use portion of the master plan was adopted in November 1976. In February 1977 work on the township's proposed zoning ordinance implementing the land use plan was substantially completed. Plaintiff was advised that the Gobel tract would continue to be zoned ROM, but that the zoning classification of the Beaverbrook tract would be changed to permit a PURD*fn3 option, the latter classification being consistent with plaintiff's original application.*fn4 Plaintiff thereafter instituted this suit.

After an intermittent trial which consumed all or part of 29 trial days, the trial judge declared that the township's zoning ordinance was unconstitutionally exclusionary as applied to plaintiff's property. He directed the township to immediately revise the subdivision provisions of its land use ordinance as they applied to the plaintiff's land. The township amended its ordinance to comply with the trial judge's directives*fn5 in this section of the order except for the provisions of the judgment requiring the township to reduce the performance bonding requirements to a rate not exceeding 100% of the expected cost of off-site

improvements and the provision requiring reduction of the maintenance guarantee requirements imposed upon a developer for public facilities to be constructed by him.

The trial judge also ordered the township to reduce the requirement of a 50-acre minimum tract size for PUD-PURD development and ordered the township to rezone the Gobel tract retaining the ROM classification and permitting a PUD option. The trial judge also ordered the appointment of a planning expert to oversee implementation of the judgment and to review the submission by the township of the aforementioned amendments to the land use ordinance. The expert was also empowered to prepare a proposed PUD ordinance which would require the township to deal with proposed PUD's in a more flexible and expeditious manner than required for regular subdivision and site plan applications. The proposed planning expert was empowered by the judgment to determine at what density the plaintiff's land should be developed. The order did not change the zoning classification of the Beaverbrook tract.

Post-trial motions were filed with the assignment judge,*fn6 who stayed those portions of the judgment dealing with the appointment and powers of the proposed planning expert and the rezoning of the Gobel tract pending resolution of these issues on appeal. As indicated, the township voluntarily amended its ordinance to eliminate certain provisions found to be ...

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