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Kauffman v. Mayor and Council of Borough of North Haledon

Decided: July 25, 1988.

ETHEL KAUFFMAN, MICHAEL TEDESCHI, MARION POSWENCYK, ALEXCIS FRANCHINO, DORIS PLOCK, VINCENT FIETTI, JR. AND RAYMOND PASQUIN, PLAINTIFFS, AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENORS,
v.
THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE BOROUGH OF NORTH HALEDON, DEFENDANTS, AND GERALD WILSON AND ANDREA WILSON, DEFENDANT-INTERVENORS



Salerno, J.s.c.

Salerno

This is the matter of Ethel Kauffman and other plaintiffs against the Mayor and Council of the Borough of North Haledon in which the State of New Jersey was permitted to intervene as an additional plaintiff, and Gerald Wilson and Andrea Wilson were permitted to intervene as additional defendants.

There remains to be decided in this case the following issues:

1. Is the sale of Block 31, Lot 24 subject to the restrictions of the New Jersey Green Acres Land Acquisition and Recreation Opportunities Act, N.J.S.A. 13:8A-35 et seq. ?

2. Is Ordinance No. 2-1986, adopted February 9, 1986 by the Borough of North Haledon rezoning Block 31, Lot 24 from open space to an RA-1 residential zone, a violation of the development project agreement between the Borough of North Haledon and the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (hereinafter NJDEP)?

3. Is the development project agreement of February 9, 1986 entered into between the parties North Haledon and NJDEP a valid and enforceable contract?

4. Was the development project agreement intended to serve only as an interim agreement between the parties and a memorialization of official notification of project approval to be superseded upon completion of the project by a Green Acres grant contract; and, if so, does the NJDEP's failure to execute the grant contract relieve the borough of any obligations remaining under the development project agreement?

5. Should the NJDEP's own procedures and conduct in this matter estop it from prohibiting the sale of Lot 24 to Wilson?

6. Is the sale of Block 31, Lot 24 on July 2, 1986 which was restricted to contiguous property owners valid and enforceable?

7. Does the fact that Block 31, Lot 24 is landlocked have any bearing on any of the other legal issues involved in this case?

8. If the sale by the borough of Lot 24 to Wilson violates either the Green Acres statute or the development project

agreement, what is the appropriate remedy when the borough has already contracted to sell and execute a deed to Wilson?

We will deal first with the Green Acres issues.

In adopting the New Jersey Green Acres Land Acquisition and Recreation Opportunities Act, N.J.S.A. 13:8A-35 et seq., which we will refer to as the Green Acres act, the Legislature made certain findings in N.J.S.A. 13:8A-36 of which the following are pertinent:

The Legislature hereby finds that:

a. The provision of lands for public recreation and the conservation of natural resources promotes the public health, prosperity and general welfare and is a proper responsibility of government;

b. Lands now provided for such purposes will not be adequate to meet the needs of an expanding population in the years to come;

c. The expansion of population, while increasing the need for such lands, will continually diminish the supply and tend to increase the cost of public acquisition of lands available and appropriate for such purposes;

d. It is necessary to provide funds to assure that lands which have been, or which may hereafter be, acquired for recreation and conservation purposes can be developed to provide public recreation and conservation opportunities and to implement the New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan;

e. The State of New Jersey must act now to acquire and develop as well as to assist local units to acquire and develop substantial quantities of such lands as are now available and appropriate for such purposes so that they may be used and preserved for use for such purposes.

Thus, the State of New Jersey has made a long-range commitment to recreation and the conservation of natural resources in this State.

In the section of the Green Acres act devoted to definitions, N.J.S.A. 13:8A-37, the Legislature defined "recreation and conservation purposes" as follows under subparagraph (f).

f. "Recreation and conservation purposes" means the lands for parks, natural areas, historic areas, forests, camping, fishing, water reserves, wildlife, reservoirs, hunting, boating, winter sports and similar uses for either public outdoor recreation or conservation of natural resources, or both.

Natural areas and conservation of natural resources are clearly set forth, and thus, are expressly encompassed in the definition of recreation and conservation purposes.

The parcel of land which is the subject matter of this lawsuit is known as Lot 24 in Block 31 on North Haledon's tax map. It contains 28.67, more or less, acres and will be referred to in this opinion as the premises in question. The premises in question are landlocked, that is, the premises have no access to any public street.

North Haledon acquired title to the premises in question by a tax sale certificate foreclosure in 1952. North Haledon adopted Ordinance No. 8-1972 on October 11, 1972, which created an open space zone district into which the premises in question were placed. That ordinance characterizes the premises in question as "one of the most outstanding and beautiful natural areas remaining in the Borough of North Haledon and surrounding areas." The ordinance also pointed out the desire of the vast majority of the residents and of the mayor and council to preserve the premises in question in their natural state. In that ordinance the open space district is defined as follows:

Open space is any parcel or parcels of area of land or water which is characterized by natural scenic beauty or openness which is set aside, dedicated, designated or rural areas and as important physical, social, recreational, conservation, aesthetic and economic assets for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the public.

Ordinance No. 8-1972 prohibited any construction on the premises in question and said further:

No use shall be made of such district except the use to which said area was devoted at the time of the adoption of this Ordinance.

The court finds and concludes that the premises in question in the open space zone district, as well as its natural state condition as described in the ordinance, and as also described by the two expert witnesses, falls within the definition ...


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