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Landau v. Township of Teaneck

Decided: January 27, 1989.


Marguerite Simon, J.s.c.


[231 NJSuper Page 588] This action in lieu of prerogative writ seeks to invalidate a proposed sale of municipally owned lands by the Township of Teaneck to the Northern Teaneck Synagogue Association. Several significant issues are raised including whether conditional uses are permitted uses in conjunction with municipal bidding, whether membership in a different house of worship of the same denomination amounts to a conflict of interest and whether municipal contracts bind a successor Mayor and Council.

The lands in question are a portion of the Roemer tract which constitutes approximately 19 acres in the West Englewood section of Teaneck. It is the last sizeable undeveloped area in the municipality and its usage has become a highly charged local issue. This acreage is currently zoned RS-1 which permits single family residences and lists various conditional uses.

On January 29, 1987, the Northern Teaneck Synagogue Association (NTSA) wrote to the Teaneck Mayor and Council offering to purchase 5 acres in the southeasterly portion of the Roemer tract for use as a house of worship. This use as a house of worship was approved in concept by the Planning Board. After numerous meetings of both that Board and the Mayor and Council, the Township of Teaneck determined to make available for a house of worship a 4 acre tract in the northeasterly portion of the Roemer woods which was more distant from adjacent residences.

In August 1987, Michael Kates, then Township Attorney, received correspondence from Eric Neisser of the American Civil Liberties Union stating that, in the opinion of his organization, designation of a religious use for the land would be in violation of the "establishment" clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. In response to that letter, the municipality changed their proposed bidding specifications to include, in addition to a house of worship, other conditional uses which were permitted in the zone and which were in conformity with a 4 acre site. The Mayor and Council adopted a resolution in January 1988 to offer the four acre tract in the northeasterly portion for sale at a public auction which, after appropriate advertising, was held on March 14, 1988. Four entities, all religious, bid at that auction with NTSA submitting the highest bid of $1,100,000.00. A contract was executed that same day by NTSA and the Township Manager on behalf of Teaneck. By resolution of March 15, 1988, the Mayor and Council confirmed the sale to NTSA.

The complaint in the present matter was instituted on March 3, 1988 before the date of the public sale. The Township of Teaneck was named defendant and NTSA was permitted to intervene. Plaintiffs Lila Landau, Walter Landau, Lamar Jones and Edward Lofberg are all Teaneck residents living in close proximity to the Roemer Woods. These individuals had indicated their opposition to any development of the entire Roemer tract and the record indicates that Lila Landau and Lamar Jones had at public meetings expressed their opposition to the sale of this land.

Teaneck held a municipal election on May 10, 1988 and those council members running for re-election who favored the sale to NTSA were defeated. Indeed, Lamar Jones was deleted as a plaintiff in this case because he became a member of defendant governing body when he earned a council seat in that election. The present governing body takes a diametrically opposed position from its predecessor, alleges it is not bound by its predecessor, and seeks to repudiate the proposed sale to NTSA as void and ultra vires. A pretrial motion by the Township of Teaneck to be removed as a party defendant and joined as plaintiff was denied by this court largely because it would have delayed the trial. However, the court at that time determined that parties would be permitted to allege their current positions at trial with a formal Pretrial Order determining the issues and the allegations of each party.

Were the actions of the predecessor governing body legally sufficient to obligate the current Mayor and Council to sell the land to NTSA? This Court answers affirmatively and will consider several of the issues.

Plaintiffs and the municipality argue that the proposed sale must be negated since the property was defectively bid. They maintain that single family residences are the only permitted use in the RS-1 Zone and that the bidding specifications violated the above statute and amounted to an illegal attempt to rezone. The procedures followed by the municipality were

made after a determination based upon the advice of the then current Township Attorney and this Court agrees that his advice was sufficient.

The relevant statute provides for sale of municipally owned real property which is not needed ...

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