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State v. Miller

Decided: July 8, 1980.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY (BY THE BOROUGH OF MILLTOWN), PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD L. MILLER, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from the Appellate Division, Superior Court, whose opinion is reported at 162 N.J. Super. 333 (1978).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J.

Clifford

This case questions the extent to which a municipality may constitutionally regulate signs in a residential neighborhood.

In August, 1976 defendant, Donald L. Miller, placed a four by eight foot sign on the lawn in front of his home, located in a residentially zoned district of the Borough of Milltown. The sign contained the following message:

WELCOME!!

PROSPECTIVE RESIDENTS OF LAWRENCE BROOK GLEN THIS RESIDENT AND OTHERS OF RIVA AVE. WANT TO WELCOME YOU TO THIS FLOOD HAZARD AREA.

GOOD LUCK!!

INFORMATION AVAILABLE.

Defendant was charged with violating section 20-9.1(a) of the Borough of Milltown's zoning ordinance, which permitted only the following types of signs in residential zones:*fn1

1. A decorative sign showing name or address of house or family, no larger than two square feet in area.

2. Signs advertising the prospective sale or rental of the premises upon which it is maintained, or signs identifying firms working at a site (one sign per firm), or indicating the future use of the site. Sale or rental signs shall be removed within one month after the new construction has been occupied. Maximum sign area per sign in square feet shall not exceed 15 per cent of the frontage of the lot along the street [which the] sign is to be located[,] measured in feet.

3. A sign erected by the borough, county, state or federal government.

4. Identification signs for and signs announcing events of churches, schools, playgrounds, parks and public utility installations. Total area of signs shall not exceed 25 feet in area on each lot.

Subsection 20-9.1(d)(4), which applies to signs in business and industrial zones as well as in residential zones, states that "[a]ll signs with an area exceeding six square feet shall require a permit." The complaint filed by the building inspector charged defendant with erecting a sign exceeding six square feet in a residential zone without first obtaining a permit. The Borough stipulated that a permit would have been denied because the sign did not fall within any of the categories set out in Section 20-9.1(a) above.

Defendant was convicted in municipal court and again after a trial de novo in the Middlesex County Court. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the municipal ordinance violated the first amendment by absolutely prohibiting "political and public interest expression" and was unconstitutional as applied to this defendant's sign. 162 N.J. Super. 333, 339 (1978). The Borough appealed as of right under R. 2:2-1(a)(1). We now affirm.

I

The goals of the Borough sign ordinance here are the maintenance of aesthetic charm in the residential neighborhoods and the preservation of property values.*fn2 The Borough pursues these goals under the zoning component of the police power to promote the general health, safety and welfare of the community.

Under early case law in this state, such goals would have been improper as beyond legitimate municipal powers. See, e.g., Passaic v. Paterson Bill ...


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