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White Castle Systems v. Planning Board

Decided: December 12, 1990.

WHITE CASTLE SYSTEMS, A FOREIGN CORPORATION AUTHORIZED TO DO BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PLANNING BOARD OF THE CITY OF CLIFTON, A BODY POLITIC OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.

Gaulkin, Havey and Skillman. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.

Havey

[244 NJSuper Page 689] Defendant Planning Board of the City of Clifton (Board) appeals from a judgment reversing its denial of plaintiff White Castle Systems' (White Castle) conditional use and site plan applications. The trial judge concluded that denial of the applications was factually unsupported, arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.

On appeal, the Board's central point is that it had no jurisdiction to consider the applications because White Castle required a variance from the 125-foot lot-width conditional use standard. The trial court refused to consider this argument, concluding that the Board had waived it since it had not been raised as an issue in the pretrial order. Despite the court's finding of waiver, White Castle now concedes that if a variance is required, the Board had no jurisdiction to hear and decide the applications. However, it argues that no minimum lot-width variance is required if lot width is measured at the point at which the proposed building is actually set back from the front lot line. We reject the argument and conclude that White Castle requires a lot-width variance. Hence, it must apply to the zoning board of adjustment for a special reasons variance under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70d(3) to permit a "deviation from a specification or standard . . . pertaining solely to a conditional use[.]" We therefore reverse and remand to the zoning board for further proceedings.

White Castle proposes a fast-food restaurant on a 25,374 square foot lot located at the intersection of Main and Piaget Avenues in Clifton. The plans envision seating for 20 persons as well as a drive-up window. An existing White Castle restaurant across the street from the proposed site, in operation for over 50 years, will be abandoned. Under the city's Code, fast-food restaurants are conditional uses, subject to various bulk requirements including a minimum lot width of 125 feet. The Board's planning consultant determined that White Castle's lot had a lot width of 122 feet, measured at the "building line," which is defined by the city's Code as follows:

Building Line -- A line parallel to the front lot line and removed from it by the depth of the required front yard.

At the hearing White Castle produced a variety of experts who testified as to its compliance with the "definite specifications and standards" of the conditional use ordinance. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-67a. The Board considered reports from its planning and engineering consultants, representatives of the

health, police and fire departments, and the testimony of neighbors in opposition to the project. In its resolution denying the applications, the Board concluded in part that: (1) the project is a detriment to the area residents; (2) there are similar uses of land in the area; (3) the project adds to area traffic and safety hazards in the area; (4) the project will not be in accord with the intent and purpose of the master plan and zoning ordinance, and (5) the project will be detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of the community.

White Castle argues that it satisfies the lot-width requirement because its lot width is 149.92 feet if measured from the actual building setback line as proposed by its plans. In support of its argument, it points to the Code's definition of "lot width" as being "the mean width of a lot measured at right angles to its depth at the building setback line." (Emphasis added).

In construing a municipal ordinance we apply the same rules of construction as are applied when interpreting statutes. AMN, Inc. v. South Brunswick Tp. Rent Leveling Bd., 93 N.J. 518, 524-525, 461 A.2d 1138 (1983). We must adopt an interpretation "consonant with the probable intent of the draftsman 'had he anticipated the situation at hand.'" Jersey City Chapter of Property Owner's Ass'n v. City Council, 55 N.J. 86, 101, 259 A.2d 698 (1969), quoting Dvorkin v. Dover Tp., 29 N.J. 303, 315, 148 A.2d 793 (1959). Thus, it is essential that we focus on the purpose for which the ordinance was enacted. L.P. Marron & Co. v. Mahwah Tp., 39 N.J. 74, 80, 187 A.2d 593 (1963).

In adopting its conditional use ordinance, the city's obvious objective was to advance and encourage the purposes of zoning as set forth in the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-2. Indeed, from the stringent conditional use standards regulating fast-food restaurants, it is apparent that the city desired a consistent minimum ...


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