August 16, 1996
SOUTHPORT DEVELOPMENT GROUP, INC. A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION AND CLUB DEVELOPMENT, INC., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, PLAINTIFFS,
TOWNSHIP OF WALL, TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE, THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST FUND, AND THE WALL TOWNSHIP LAND USE OFFICER, DEFENDANTS.
Hayser, J.t.c., temporarily assigned
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayser
HAYSER, J.T.C., temporarily assigned
Plaintiffs bring this action seeking a determination as to the validity of Wall Township Ordinance No. 34-1987, hereinafter denoted as the "development fees ordinance," and if the ordinance is found to be invalid, plaintiffs further seek reimbursement for the fees actually paid under the voided enactment.
Essential facts are not in dispute.
Plaintiff Southport Development Group, Inc. is the owner of certain property denoted as Lot 3 of Block 352 of the Wall Township Tax Map, consisting of 3.65 acres. Plaintiff Club Development Group, Inc. is the owner of certain property denoted as Lot 9 of Block 273 of the Wall Township Tax Map, consisting of 1.63 acres.
On September 3, 1986, plaintiffs, or their predecessor in title in at least the case of plaintiff Club Development Group, Inc., were granted use variances by the Township's Zoning Board of Adjustment to construct multi-family developments. At that time, plaintiffs' properties were zoned B-2 and R-30, respectively. Plaintiffs received approval to construct townhouses in lieu of the permitted uses.
Among other conditions placed upon the approvals, was the requirement that 20% of the multi-family housing constructed by each plaintiff meet the requirements of low and moderate income housing as proposed in the defendant Township of Wall's Mt. Laurel fair share plan. *fn1 Alternatively, the condition provided that plaintiffs could make a cash contribution in lieu of constructing the required Mt. Laurel units if the Township adopted a development fees ordinance for this purpose. This condition in their approvals, voluntary or not, was never challenged, effectively making plaintiffs Mt. Laurel developers, indirectly, if not directly.
On December 9, 1987, Township Ordinance No. 34-1987, the development fees ordinance, was adopted. Plaintiffs did not challenge that ordinance before the present litigation. Plaintiffs, moreover, never formally challenged the imposition of the fees after the date they argue they were "imposed", on June 22, 1988, by letter of the Township's land use officer. Plaintiffs' Motion Brief, page 12. Fee payments were apparently made as early as April 11, 1989. Brief, (supra) , Exhibit B.
After a series of court hearings over a number of years, for which public notice was provided, defendant Township's fair share plan was approved in the Judgment of Repose entered on September 24, 1990. The development fees ordinance was an integral part of the fair share plan, designed to provide funding in meeting the Township's net fair share obligation through rehabilitation of existing housing stock and the transfer of a maximum of 50% of its net share obligation to assist other municipalities under regional development agreements.
Plaintiffs commenced the present action by filing a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs on April 17, 1991, relying, in part, upon the Supreme Court's decision in Holmdel Builders Association v. Township of Holmdel, (Holmdel), 121 N.J. 550, 583 A.2d 277 (1990), decided December 13, 1990.
On June 24, 1992, an earlier trial court Judge considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. In a decision issued September 2, 1992, the earlier trial court decided, among other matters, that the time bar rule of R. 4:69-6(a) did not preclude the present challenge to the development fees ordinance, because plaintiffs' cause of action accrued only with the Holmdel decision; nor was this same rule to be applied to the Judgment of Repose in "the interest of sound Justice," pursuant to R. 4:69-6(c). However, the court also determined that the unchallenged variances that were granted, were not tainted under the principles set forth in Nunziato v. Edgewater Planning Board, 225 N.J. Super. 124, 541 A.2d 1105 (App. Div. 1988). *fn2
Finally, the court addressed the central issue presented in the motions, i.e. the validity of the development fees ordinance. Plaintiffs, apparently, argued that the ordinance need not necessarily be invalidated per se, but that they should only be required to pay what other developers paid under the Judgment of Repose, or as might be permitted under Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations. The court determined, however, that under the Holmdel decision, the validity of the Wall development fees ordinance should be determined by COAH, once recently adopted regulations had withstood judicial scrutiny. *fn3 Nevertheless, the court decided this was to occur only after the court made further findings as to the voluntary nature of the fee payments in this case by plaintiffs, the treatment of other developers, what "density bonuses," if any, were received by plaintiffs under their variance approvals, and the effect of the Judgment of Repose.
Notwithstanding the earlier trial court's decision as to the summary judgment motions, the parties have filed new motions for summary judgment. *fn4 Plaintiffs contend that under Di Misa, they are entitled to reimbursement of all development fees paid during the "transitional period," i.e. December 13, 1990, when Holmdel was decided, and January 21, 1992, when COAH'S development fees regulations became effective; and for transfer to COAH as to a determination for the fees paid before December 13, 1990. Defendants bring a cross motion for dismissal of the complaint under the Holmdel and Di Misa decisions.
With this background, the court will address the issues raised by the parties' present motions.
A. The "Renewed" Motions for Summary Judgment and the "Law of the Case."
As indicated, plaintiffs moved before the earlier trial Judge in 1992 for a refund predicated upon the misapplication of the development fees ordinance to them, or, in the alternative, that the matter should have been referred to COAH for a determination as to any refund that they would be entitled to receive. In contrast, defendants argued, in their cross motion, that the Holmdel decision, relied upon by plaintiffs, was not controlling under the facts of this case. They argued that the ordinance had been applied appropriately, COAH's position was to accept "voluntary" fee arrangements and plaintiffs had agreed to the Mt. Laurel options governing their variance approvals. Finally, they argued that the ordinance was part of the comprehensive review and approval undertaken by Judge Serpentelli as reflected in the Judgment of Repose.
The court, essentially, decided earlier the entire matter should be transferred to COAH, once its regulations were in place, but only after the court engaged in further fact finding. Apparently, the parties felt the court could decide more, at least as to the validity of the development fees ordinance, particularly in view of the earlier court's decision not only to stay transfer of the matter to COAH, but also to engage in further fact finding. Their argument has not dimmed over the passage of time.
Normally, a renewal of a motion for summary judgment, in whole or in part, even when the order is interlocutory in nature, as when the motion is denied, is not favored, particularly when brought before another trial Judge, barring exceptional circumstances. Cineas v. Mammone, 270 N.J. Super. 200, 207-208, 636 A.2d 1071 (App. Div. 1994).
However, a number of things have changed since the earlier trial court's decision in 1992. The relevant COAH regulations are now fully effective, and, more importantly, due to the fortuitous, perhaps, delay for the parties in the further court fact finding, Di Misa has been decided and must be considered for its possible impact upon the matters presented.
Closely related to the policy of not encouraging the renewal of summary judgment motions before different Judges of co-ordinate jurisdiction, is the doctrine of the "law of the case." The "law of the case" doctrine, grounded upon the principle that relitigation of an issue should be discouraged, if possible, requires Judges to respect un-reversed decisions made during the trial as to questions of law. State v. Reldan, 100 N.J. 187, 203, 495 A.2d 76 (1985). However, the doctrine is discretionary, and the court is never irrevocably bound before its final decision; and the doctrine should be applied flexibly to serve the interests of Justice, "even if this means re-litigating a prior ruling before final judgment." Id. at 205.
Moreover, there are a number of exceptions to the doctrine. These exceptions include the presence of new controlling authority, clear error in the earlier decision, the presence of an intervening or retroactive change in the law, or where the earlier decision was either ambiguous or uncertain. See generally Sisler v. Gannett Co., Inc., 222 N.J. Super. 153, 159-160, 536 A.2d 299 (App. Div. 1987). The parties, in bringing their motions, have raised, by necessity, one or more of these exceptions. However, for purposes of this decision, the court will focus upon three: claimed ambiguity or uncertainty in the earlier decision, claimed error in the earlier decision and a change in the decisional law.
B. The Earlier Trial Court Decision on the Merits
At one point in its decision the earlier trial court determined that the validity of the ordinance and any possible refund of fees paid thereunder was to be decided by COAH after transfer. Given the arguments presented by the parties, it is unclear whether the ordinance's effect would be as applied only to these particular plaintiffs.
More importantly, the court was retaining the matter for fact finding as to, among other things, the impact and effect of the Judgment of Repose. Since the court had already decided that COAH should decide the matter under its promulgated regulations, it is, at the least, unclear as to what further role the repose judgment could or would play in that determination. *fn5
Finally, if the trial court was to make further factual findings as to the voluntary nature of the fee payments, the presence or not of "density" bonuses and how other developers were treated under the development fee ordinance, all central issues to determining the validity of the ordinance, what was left for COAH to do in determining the validity of the ordinance?
The parties can provide the court with no answers to resolve these matters. Thus, the court feels it is obligated to review the earlier determination in finally concluding this matter, which finds further support in the parties' renewed motions.
B1. The Holmdel and Di Misa Decisions
Plaintiffs argue that the Holmdel decision requires the issue of the validity of assessing Mt. Laurel development fees, whether mandatory or voluntary, to be decided by COAH under its regulations before such fees can be charged. In addition, plaintiffs maintain that Holmdel does not distinguish between those development fee ordinances that have been submitted to COAH for review as part of a substantive compliance process and those which were the subject of review in an exclusionary zoning lawsuit culminating in an earlier judgment of repose. Plaintiffs further argue that, at least to the extent of reviewing and approving such an ordinance, a court lacks jurisdiction, although this does not otherwise disturb a judgment of repose. Finally, plaintiffs indicate that Di Misa, as a further clarification of the issue, requires the Conclusion that the court order the refund of all fees assessed and collected by the defendant Township during the "transition period," i.e. December 19, 1990 and January 21, 1992, and that only the issue as to the fees paid before December 19, 1990 should be transferred to COAH for resolution. In the alternative, but yet still relying upon the claimed priority of the COAH regulations, plaintiffs argue that under N.J.A.C. 5:93-8.12, (1) they cannot be liable for any fees, since they obtained development approvals in 1986, prior to the "imposition" of the development fees ordinance, *fn6 and have not sought a major change in the approvals, or (2) the defendant Township may not, in any event, retain any development fees collected prior to December 13, 1990 (i.e. the date of the Holmdel decision) since they sought no "major change" subsequent to their 1986 approvals. *fn7
Defendants argue, to the contrary, that the Holmdel decision has been misapplied under the facts of this case, and that COAH does not intend its regulations to interfere with a court's exercised jurisdiction and discretion in granting repose and promoting, concurrent with COAH, affordable housing goals. In addition, defendants maintain that plaintiffs must accept the burdens with the benefits they acquired under their 1986 development approvals, and that Di Misa is not relevant under the facts of this case.
Conclusions of Law
Whether viewed as either lacking clarity or erroneous, the court has concluded that the earlier decision of the trial court as to the relevancy of the Holmdel decision under the facts of this case must be reviewed in the "interests of Justice." Moreover, the earlier findings regarding the complete transfer of the matter to COAH also require review as a result of the subsequent Di Misa decision. *fn8
It is important to understand the factual setting of the Holmdel decision. Like the present case, Holmdel was not exclusionary zoning litigation. Unlike the present case, however, it was brought by clearly non Mt. Laurel developers or their associations, i.e. commercial and non-inclusionary residential developers. Finally, and most importantly, unlike the present case, there was no issue concerning the relationship and priority between a judgment of repose and a substantive compliance proceeding through COAH.
In Holmdel, "COAH had expressly approved the housing elements and fair-share plans of the defendant municipalities, although in granting substantive certification to the municipalities in that case, COAH did not rule on the development fee ordinances, concluding that the ordinances as such were 'not required to implement the fair share plan.'" Id. at 579.
The failure of developing municipalities to provide a constitutionally required realistic opportunity for the development of low and moderate income housing, Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mount Laurel Township, 67 N.J. 151, 336 A.2d 713 (1975), cert. den. 423 U.S. 808, 96 S. Ct. 18, 46 L. Ed. 2d 28 (Mt. Laurel I), led the Supreme Court to impose an affirmative obligation on every municipality to provide its fair share of affordable housing, enforced through an exclusionary zoning lawsuit and its builder's remedy. Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mount Laurel Township, 92 N.J. 158, 456 A.2d 390 (1983) (Mt. Laurel II).
The Legislature's response to this important issue was finally realized in the enactment of the Fair Housing Act (Act) in 1985. N.J.S.A. 52:27D-301 to 329. This legislation acknowledged the court's continued role in achieving Mt. Laurel compliance through seeking approval of a housing element and fair share plan by petitioning COAH or the court, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-313, and by permitting and not acquiring transfer to COAH of pending Mt. Laurel litigation matters. N.J.S.A. 52:27D-316. Subsequently, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Act. Hills Dev. Co. v. Bernards Township, 103 N.J. 1, 25, 510 A.2d 621 (1986). *fn9 Defendant Wall Township chose not to transfer its exclusionary zoning litigation to COAH, which it was free to do, since the matter was pending at the time the Act became effective.
In Mt. Laurel II, the Supreme Court cited mandatory set-asides as among the devices to utilize in achieving this important public interest housing goal, while stressing that "municipalities and trial courts are encouraged to create other devices and methods for meeting fair share obligations." Id. at 265-266. In Holmdel, the Court concluded that "development fees are the functional equivalent of mandatory set-asides" and "such measures do not offend the zoning laws or the police powers." Id. at 573.
Thus, the Court in Holmdel focused on the role of a development fees ordinance in the compliance process and concluded that "each ordinance has a direct and material bearing on the municipality's effort to meet its fair-share affordable-housing obligation," and the ordinance is "subject to review and certification...as a constituent part of the housing-element plan." Id. at 579. *fn10
Nothing in the Holmdel decision suggests the Court no longer recognized the traditional role that courts have played in the Mt. Laurel compliance process, while still acknowledging COAH's "unique" role "as the administrative regulator in the field of affordable housing." Id. at 576-577. Furthermore, where it would be expected that future ordinances or those of municipalities utilizing COAH's substantial compliance procedures would be submitted for review under now existing COAH regulations, nothing in the Holmdel decision suggests that previous court reviews of this "constituent part of the housing-element plan" culminating in a repose judgment, require or permit that judgment to be voided, modified or vacated for that reason, when, at the time of repose, no such regulations existed. *fn11
The Court's decision in Holmdel was a directive to municipalities and COAH that those seeking substantial certification must submit development fee ordinances as a "constituent part" of the approval process under rules COAH must promulgate to assure the goals intended under the Act. The fact is that the development fee ordinances involved in Holmdel were not reviewed and approved by anyone with jurisdiction to assure compliance with the Act, its goals and purposes. *fn12
COAH's response to Holmdel is appropriate to consider in understanding the role that a repose judgment might play in the resolution of the development fee issue.
In its promulgated regulations in response to Holmdel, COAH stated, that". . .a municipality may only collect and spend development fees through participation in the Council's substantive certification process or through a comprehensive review designed to achieve a judgment of repose." [emphasis supplied]. N.J.A.C. 5:92-18.1(B). Moreover, N.J.A.C. 5:92-18.1(C) permits COAH to review a development fee ordinance "upon the request of the court with jurisdiction in an exclusionary zoning lawsuit", while the same rule states that normally "the rules that follow shall govern those municipalities that petition for substantive certification and urban aid cities." [emphasis supplied]. *fn13
A judgment of repose is subject to the same grounds for relief as other judgments under R. 4:50-1. Putting aside the need to make a timely application for relief, equitable principles constitute the guide for resolution. Shammas v. Shammas, 9 N.J. 321, 327-328, 88 A.2d 204 (1952). Relief from a judgment is extraordinary, requiring a showing of exceptional circumstances. Baumann v. Marinaro 95 N.J. 380, 393, 471 A.2d 395 (1984). A mere showing of error in the proceedings resulting in the entry of judgment will not entitle one to relief from the judgment. Last v. Audubon Park Assoc., 227 N.J. Super. 602, 606-608, 548 A.2d 236 (App. Div. 1988), certif. den., 114 N.J. 491 (1989).
Policy considerations strongly dictate that the concept of void judgments be restricted and that unappealable civil judgments not be dealt with as void except where there has been a plain usurpation of power. State v. American Can Co., 42 N.J. 32, 38, 198 A.2d 753 (1964). A mere change in decisional law will not normally disturb the finality of a judgment in the absence of a plaintiff's demonstrating extreme hardship and clear equity in his favor. Doyle v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 80 N.J. Super. 105, 121, 193 A.2d 151 (App. Div. 1963). Even gross errors committed by a court in reaching a decision do not necessarily render the court's judgment or order void. Hendricks v. A.J. Ross Co., 232 N.J. Super. 243, 248, 556 A.2d 1267 (App. Div. 1989), citing In re Whitney-Forbes Inc., 770 F.2d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 1985).
In the instant matter, without even considering the absence of a timely challenge to the repose judgment, plaintiffs' claim, in effect a collateral attack upon at least one "component" of the judgment, is that the imposition of development fees without benefit of COAH review and approval is void, in whole or in part. *fn14
A review of the documents and testimony involving approximately five years of proceedings before Judge Serpentelli in the earlier Cove Industries exclusionary zoning litigation provided to the court, evidences an extensive and exhaustive treatment of the subject leading up to the Judgment of Repose. Integral to that process and a fundamental component of the fair share plan was the consideration of the development fees ordinance. *fn15
Plaintiffs argue that excision of the ordinance from the approved fair share plan would have no impact upon the judgment, despite the fact that the funds generated by this funding mechanism would substantially meet the defendant Township's net fair share allocation. Moreover, plaintiffs' argument that the Mt. Laurel Judge simply "rubber stamped" the ordinance does a disservice not only to this distinguished jurist, whose expertise in such matters is well acknowledged, but does an equal disservice to the extensive process participated in by both inclusionary and non-inclusionary developers over the extended review period. *fn16
As initially designated, in effect, Mt. Laurel developers, plaintiffs would have had a significant interest in these earlier court proceedings. The record is clear that extensive public notice was given, interested persons or objectors had the right to fully participate and the plaintiffs chose not to avail themselves of that opportunity.
A judgment of repose must have the same effect as substantial certification through COAH, and plaintiffs should not be permitted to challenge the court's approval of the ordinance now any more than if they had chosen not to participate in a similar process through COAH. See Alexander's v. Paramus Bor., 243 N.J. Super. 157, 578 A.2d 1241(App. Div. 1990).
Under these circumstances, plaintiffs' claims pale before the overriding public policy concern to achieve realistic housing opportunities for low and moderate income individuals, as required by constitutional mandate.
C. Wall Township Ordinance No. 34-1987
Plaintiffs raise a number of issues as to the development fees ordinance, itself, beyond the failure to enact and implement it in accordance with enabling COAH administrative regulations. They argue that the ordinance is vague, unclear, impermissibly retroactive and, by its terms, inapplicable to them, since they received no "density bonuses" by virtue of their 1986 variance approvals. Plaintiffs also argue that the ordinance has been applied in a discriminating or selective manner.
Given the nature of the claims, it is necessary to consider the basis for defendants' earlier determination that plaintiffs' development projects were subject to the fee payment requirements of the ordinance.
Under the resolutions granting them use variances on September 3, 1986, a Mt. Laurel condition was not only imposed upon plaintiffs, but the board of adjustment also found that the very participation by plaintiffs in the Township's Mt. Laurel undertaking, through on-site construction of low and moderate income housing or monetary contributions toward same, provided the only special reasons, meeting the positive criteria, to permit the granting of the very use variances plaintiffs sought. *fn17 As discussed earlier, the variances have never been challenged in any respect. Their granting with the Mt. Laurel conditions remain fully effective.
Moreover, plaintiff Southport Development Group, Inc. through its principal, William Govel, obtained its use variance to construct 30 townhouses on 3.65 acres in the B-2 zone, contiguous to the R-10 single family residential zone. The balance of the 6.34 acre site, or 2.69 acres which fronted on Route 35, would be reserved for future commercial development. Old Mill Realty, Inc., predecessor of plaintiff, Club Development Group, received approval to construct 15 townhouses upon a 1.63 acre site located in the R-30 zone, which permitted a maximum density of one unit per 30,000 square foot lot.
It is difficult to understand how plaintiffs can argue that they did not receive compensatory benefits, if not density bonuses, under their uncontested variance approvals as described above. A variance permitting residential development where none was previously permitted establishes both a residential density base and benefit bonus for the property. This is true, even if the ordinance is viewed as mandatory, but not confiscatory. It is also difficult to understand how they can maintain that they did not agree to the unassailed Mt. Laurel condition of their approvals.
The eventual development fees ordinance, the potential reality of which was acknowledged in an unchallenged condition of the variance approvals, was expressly made retroactive to July 1, 1986. See Twiss v. State Dept. of Treasury, Office of Financial Management, 124 N.J. 461, 467, 591 A.2d 913 (1991). However, it is argued that its relevant provision, Sec. 15-5.18b2, is not only not applicable to plaintiffs because they received no "density bonuses", but also because it is vague and unclear as to whether the reference to a payment in "the sum of $10,000.00 for each such unit constructed," refers to a payment only as to Mt. Laurel housing units not constructed or applies to all units actually constructed in the proposed development projects. In the case of these plaintiffs, it could have made a difference between a payment of $90,000 and $450,000.
A number of rules are to be considered in construing the meaning of legislation. When an enactment is clear on its face, a court need not look beyond the terms of the enactment to determine the legislative intent. State v. Churchdale Leasing, Inc., 115 N.J. 83, 557 A.2d 277 (1989). The insertion of words in an enactment is a power to be exercised by a court with unusual caution. Klink v. Township Council of Monroe Tp., 181 N.J. Super. 25, 30, 436 A.2d 545 (App. Div. 1981). Moreover, the legislative body will be presumed not to have used meaningless language, e.g., words of relation normally relate back to the nearest antecedent. State v. Wean, 86 N.J. Super. 283, 288-289, 206 A.2d 765, (App. Div. 1965). Furthermore, the meaning that an administrative official responsible for its implementation ascribes to the enactment over a period of usage is persuasive of the legislative intent. Borough of Matawan v. Monmouth County Bd. of Taxation, 51 N.J. 291, 300, 240 A.2d 8 (1968). Finally, in construing the language of an ordinance, courts apply the same rules of judicial construction as they apply when construing statutes. A.M.N., Inc. of New Jersey v. Tp. Rent Leveling Bd., 93 N.J. 518, 524-525, 461 A.2d 1138 (1983).
In applying these rules of construction to the above cited section of the development fees ordinance, which is presumptively valid, it is clear that since no Mt. Laurel units would be constructed if the fee was paid as an alternative, the reference to "each such unit constructed" can only refer to the development units constructed. Moreover, nothing in the defendants' interpretation of the ordinance, as it applies to these plaintiffs, suggests a different Conclusion. Borough of Matawan, supra, 51 N.J. at 300. All variance developers were charged and paid this fee.
Finally, in accepting the Mt. Laurel condition of their variance approvals, plaintiffs agreed, as recited in their approval resolutions, to the "option of constructing the units or making the cash contribution as may be provided for by that ordinance." Resolution of Approval dated September 3, 1996. [emphasis supplied]. Plaintiffs, having achieved their desired variance approvals, in lieu of constructing affordable housing, challenged in 1991 the ordinance that gave them the option to make cash payments. Their approvals, if not the ordinance itself, required plaintiffs either to construct Mt. Laurel housing or make an in-lieu payment, and that is beyond dispute. The clearly retroactive ordinance implemented the condition that they accepted even to receive their approvals.
However, plaintiffs also argue that the development fees ordinance has been enforced in an arbitrary or selective manner, as applied to them, in that it is claimed some developers were not charged the $10,000 per housing unit provided for in the ordinance.
An ordinance must operate uniformly upon all who are similarly situated and discrimination is a fatal defect in an ordinance. Moreover, an ordinance lacking requisite uniformity cannot be sustained on the theory that officials will hopefully enforce it fairly. See generally 5 Mc Quillan, Municipal Corporations §§ 18.11 and .12 (3rd ed).
Plaintiffs cannot argue that as a necessary part of their variance approval processes there should have been negotiations as to the fees to be paid, which would have tainted those proceedings. As the court stated in Nunziato:
The intolerable spectacle of the board haggling with an applicant over money too strongly suggests that variances are up for sale. This cannot be countenanced. Proceedings in which this has occurred are immediately tainted, and must be set aside.
[ Nunziato, 225 N.J. Super. at 133-134.]
Moreover, the Judgment of Repose envisions that depending upon circumstances, all developers might not pay the same fees. Paragraph N, Judgment of Repose. See also N.J.A.C. 5:92-8.12
No fewer than nine developers, including the variance developers, were charged and paid the $10,000 per unit fee. Other developers who were charged and paid different fees, all reviewed and approved by the Mt. Laurel Judge in amendments to the Judgment of Repose, were predicated upon the legitimate concerns that Mt. Laurel housing would not be built in the face of foreclosure actions or such other factors as excessive development costs for the subject properties.
Plaintiffs all too readily accepted their Mt. Laurel obligation under their 1986 variance approvals. They never challenged the conditions imposed. Sec. 15-5.18 b2 of Township Ordinance 34-1987 establishes the fee to be paid, with plaintiffs having chosen that option rather than building Mt. Laurel units under their approvals. The fact that plaintiffs might not have finally achieved the full benefit of their developmental goals, through no fault of defendants, is not a basis for a belated challenge, in effect, to an earlier obligation they chose to accept in seeking and receiving their earlier approvals. The ordinance provision must be read to achieve what obligations they earlier assumed, when all things were possible in the expansive 1980's.
Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied. Defendants' cross-motion is granted. *fn18
Counsel for the defendants shall prepare and submit a proposed Order pursuant to R. 4:42-1(c).