This is a suit by a developer, Countryside Properties, Inc. (Countryside), challenging the zoning ordinance of the Borough of Ringwood (Ringwood) on the grounds that it fails to provide a realistic opportunity for the construction of low and moderate income housing as required by the Mount Laurel doctrine. Southern Burlington Cty. N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Tp., 92 N.J. 158 (1983) (Mount Laurel II.)
Ringwood is located in northern Passaic County, bordered to the north by New York State, to the west by West Milford, to the south by Bloomingdale and Wanaque and to the east by Mahwah and Oaklyn. It occupies 27.3 square miles and has a population of 12,625 persons. Its dominant physical features are mountainous terrain and numerous lakes and other bodies
of water including the Wanaque Reservoir and the proposed Montville Reservoir. It also contains substantial state parklands including Skylands Manor State Park, Ringwood Manor State Park and Norvin Green State Forest.
Ringwood is in the Skylands Region, which is described in the State Development Guide Plan (SDGP) as a "rugged area" that should be "considered as a significant resource to be appropriately managed and conserved by the State." Division of State & Regional Planning, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, State Development Guide Plan 67 (1980). Accordingly, the SDGP designates the Skylands Region, including all of Ringwood, as a "conservation area."
This designation determines the nature of Ringwood's obligation with respect to lower income housing, since the Court in Mount Laurel II held that only municipalities located in areas designated "growth" in the SDGP are obligated to provide their fair share of the regional need for lower income housing. Mount Laurel II at 223-248. Municipalities located outside any "growth area" are only obligated to accommodate the present need for lower income housing generated within the municipality. Id. at 244.
As permitted by Mount Laurel II at 239-242, Countryside attacked the "conservation" designation of Ringwood on the grounds, first, that it was "arbitrary and capricious," and second, that there had been a substantial transformation of Ringwood since preparation of the SDGP. Countryside's attack upon the "conservation" designation of Ringwood was rejected by oral opinion after a trial limited to this issue. Therefore, Ringwood's Mount Laurel obligation is limited to its present indigenous need.*fn1
There are three issues now before the court. First, what is the present indigenous need of Ringwood? Second, is Ringwood entitled to deduct from that need any credits for its past activities relating to lower income housing? Third, do the current land use regulations of Ringwood provide a realistic opportunity for satisfaction of its present indigenous need?
It is necessary at the outset to determine what the Supreme Court intended to be encompassed by present indigenous need; specifically, whether that need is limited to dilapidated units occupied by lower income persons or also extends to physically adequate units which are overcrowded.*fn2 It is the view of some commentators, e.g. Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, Mount Laurel II: Challenge & Delivery of Low-Cost Housing at 111-114 (1983) (hereinafter Rutgers Report), and at least one expert witness at trial that overcrowded housing units, while one indicator in combination with others of physical dilapidation, are not by themselves a separate category of present housing need. However, the Court appears to have rejected this view. Although the Mount Laurel II opinion states at one point that the present need obligation relates to "resident poor who now occupy dilapidated housing," Id. at 214, it describes this need at another point as being generated by "present dilapidated or overcrowded lower income units." Id. at 243; emphasis supplied. It is unlikely that the Court's reference, in the disjunctive,
to "dilapidated or overcrowded" units was inadvertent. Therefore, the Court appears to have concluded that present indigenous need includes not only housing units occupied by lower income persons which are dilapidated but also units which are physically adequate but overcrowded.
Every expert testifying at this trial (and also in all other pending Mount Laurel litigation) agrees that it is not generally feasible to physically survey all housing units in a municipality or area to determine how many are dilapidated or overcrowded. Special questionnaires mailed to residents are also generally unreliable due to the large number of addressees who fail to respond and the inherent difficulties of following up when there is no response.
The experts also agree that the best source of data from which to determine the number of deficient housing units occupied by lower income persons is the United States Census. The 1980 census did not directly measure housing dilapidation either by physical survey or by questionnaire. However, it did include a number of questions relating to the physical characteristics of housing units and the personal circumstances of the occupants. These questions generated data relating to seven negative characteristics of housing -- whether the unit was built prior to 1940, is occupied by more than 1.01 persons per room, permits access only by entering through another dwelling, lacks plumbing facilities for the exclusive use of the occupants, lacks complete kitchen facilities, lacks centralized heating facilities, or lacks an elevator if located in a more than four-story structure. See Rutgers Report at 111.
It should be emphasized that none of this census data directly measures housing dilapidation. A house may lack centralized heating or complete kitchen facilities and yet be structurally sound and possess the other qualities of satisfactory housing. Conversely, a housing unit may not exhibit any negative characteristic revealed by the census data and ...