This is an action in lieu of prerogative writs which raises the issue of whether the zoning power is implicated by the decision of a property owner to sub-contract its in-house banking operations to a commercial bank.
Plaintiff, AT & T Communications, occupies office buildings and garages on a 450-acre tract of land near Highway 206 in Bedminster Township. There are three interconnected office buildings of five stories each which provide over 750,000 square feet of office space. In addition, there are three garages which contain parking spaces for the cars of some 3,500 employees.
This complex, located more than one-half mile from the property lines, was completed in 1975 after extensive site plan review and approval by Bedminster Township. Until January 1, 1984, it was the headquarters of the long lines department of AT & T. Since January 1, 1984, it has been part of the headquarters of AT & T Communications. Presently, about 3,300 employees and contract support personnel work on the premises. From its inception, the plans for the buildings included numerous support services for AT & T employees including cafeterias, lounges, gift shop, credit union facilities, and a banking center. The banking center's operations include cashing employee paychecks and personal checks, processing cash advances and vouchers and selling travelers checks. When the buildings were completed, the banking center was operated by employees of the long lines division of AT & T. It is now operated by employees of AT & T Communications.
In the winter of 1984, AT & T Communications entered into an agreement with the Summit Trust Company. Pursuant to that agreement, the Summit Trust Company agreed to take over operation of the banking center at the Bedminster complex and to operate the center as a retail branch bank to serve the needs of AT & T employees. AT & T has determined that it will reduce expenses by contracting the operation of this facility to an outside entity, as it does with its cafeteria service. Summit Trust Company will use the space presently occupied by the AT & T banking center. No structural changes are involved. The banking center services will continue to be available only to AT & T employees and not to members of the general public. Pursuant to the agreement, Summit Trust Company is prohibited from placing external signs or advertising regarding this location. In consideration for the Summit Trust Company agreeing to perform the banking center operations now performed by AT & T employees, AT & T agreed that Summit Trust could provide additional banking services, such as checking and savings accounts and loans to employees. The
commissioner of banking has approved Summit Trust Company's operation of the AT & T banking center.
On December 21, 1984, the zoning officer of Bedminster Township informed the manager of banking relations of AT & T that AT & T would not be permitted to enter into any agreement with an outside banking institution without first obtaining a variance, construction permits, and site plan approvals as such use would be beyond the scope of the original site plan and is not a permitted principal or accessory use in the office research zone under section 13-406 of the township ordinance. Thereafter, on January 30, 1985 the division manager of public relations for AT & T Communications wrote to the mayor of Bedminster Township outlining the history of the banking center and the proposed operation of that center by Summit Trust Company. He requested the township committee to take appropriate steps to permit Summit Trust Company to operate the banking center if it did not agree with AT & T's position that said use was a permissible one. On February 7, 1985, the township attorney wrote to plaintiff and stated that he concurred in the zoning officer's opinion that "without a variance from the Board of Adjustment, you will not be able to operate this branch of the Summit Trust Company." As a result of the position taken by the zoning officer and the township attorney, AT & T filed an application appealing from the decision of the zoning officer under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(a). AT & T argued that a variance was not required. Alternatively, AT & T requested a use variance under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d) to permit it to contract the operation of the banking facility to the Summit Trust Company.
A public hearing before the zoning board of adjustment was held on AT & T's application on April 24, 1985. AT & T presented testimony from four witnesses including that of a licensed planner. A copy of the site plan of the AT & T facility, the building plan of the complex, and the floor plan illustrating the banking center were also marked into evidence. After the hearing, the board denied the appeal from the decision of the
zoning officer and also denied the variance requested. The board of adjustment made the following relevant findings of fact:
3. The present application to the Board of Adjustment is to permit the applicant to contract its in-house banking facility to Summit Trust Company which facility has ...