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Nigro v. Planning Board of Borough of Saddle River

Decided: November 20, 1989.


Bilder and Ashbey.

Per Curiam

[237 NJSuper Page 305] This is an appeal by a planning board from a final judgment of the Law Division reversing its denial of an application for preliminary subdivision approval as unreasonable, arbitrary and

capricious. Defendant Saddle River Planning Board contends the street layout of the proposed subdivision did not conform to the officially adopted official map; that the official map was statutorily conclusive with respect to the street location; that it therefore could not lawfully approve a proposal that failed to conform to the official map; and that ergo, of necessity, its action could not have been unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. We agree.

This litigation involves a 25.5 acre tract in Saddle River which is still devoted to farming. It is essentially surrounded by the rear lots of developed residential properties containing at least two acres. Importantly to this case, it is bounded to the north by lots facing Glenwood Drive and to the south by lots facing Twin Brooks Road.

Plaintiff James Nigro is the contract purchaser of some eight acres on the western side of the undeveloped tract. The present owners, the Demarests, are unwilling to sell the remaining 17.5 acres upon which they plan to continue their farming operation. Nigro applied to the Planning Board for preliminary approval of a major subdivision in which four new residential lots would be created in the western part of the Demarest tract. The lots in the proposed subdivision conform with the required areas and frontages but the proposed street access does not conform to that shown in the existing master plan and official map. Negro proposes to provide access by the construction of a new street running north from Twin Brooks Road; the official map shows access to the Demarest tract will be provided by a proposed street running south from Glenwood Drive. In order to construct his proposed access road, Nigro has acquired a residential tract on Twin Brooks Road. The access road shown on the official map enters the Demarest tract through the eastern portion which is not presently available for development. There is no evidence as to the availability or cost of an access tract on the Glenwood Drive side.

The Planning Board denied the application upon findings, inter alia, that the proposed subdivision was inconsistent with the master plan and the official map. In its conclusions, it properly identified the basic issue.

The basic problem arises in that the property owner wishes to develop the property in a manner different than that recognized in the Master Plan and Official Map of the municipality. Those documents provide for development of the tract from Glenwood Drive. The property owner has chosen to sell off the portion of the property in question which is located some distance from the roadway access to the property at Glenwood Drive. The applicant has been able to acquire property on Twin Brooks Road and provide an area of access by way of public street. The basic conflict arises in creating a public street in an area where single family residential homes exist where no street was ever contemplated, and in a location not conforming to the planning process of the municipality which clearly contemplated development from Glenwood Drive.

The trial judge considered the street locations as shown in the master plan and official map as proposed locations -- merely tentative proposals for later discussion and consideration. They were, she concluded, nonbinding. In her view, the evidence showed good planning reasons for the development of the property from the south.*fn1 She found the action of the Planning Board to be arbitrary and capricious and remanded the matter with directions to grant the requested subdivision approval.

We are satisfied that the trial judge's action in treating the official map as tentative -- as merely showing a nonbinding proposed rights-of-way -- was error. Such is not the law. The legislature has decreed to the contrary.

The official map shall be deemed conclusive with respect to the location and width of streets and public drainage ways and the location and extent of flood

control basins and public areas, whether or not such streets, ways, basins or areas are improved or unimproved or ...

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