Before Judges Pressler, Wallace and Carchman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pressler, P.j.a.d.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
This is an appeal from a judgment dismissing plaintiffs' action in lieu of prerogative writs by which they challenged the actions of the Board of Trustees of South Orange Village (Village) and the Planning Board of South Orange in designating a central business district redevelopment area and adopting a redevelopment plan for the area.
Plaintiff Glynis Forbes is a residential tenant of a building within the redevelopment area; plaintiff Toi Yan Lam is the proprietor, in leased premises, of a restaurant within the redevelopment area; and plaintiff VOCAL is an unincorporated, non-profit citizens' group whose two members are both South Orange residents, one of whom owns property in the Village but not in the redevelopment area. The fourth named plaintiff, Manny Adeleye, also a proprietor of a retail business in leased premises in the redevelopment area, filed an affidavit with the court asserting that he had never understood that he was to be a plaintiff in a law suit and did not wish to be a plaintiff in this one.
We affirm the judgment of the Law Division substantially for the reasons orally stated on the record by Judge Alvin Weiss. We add, however, the following comments.
The main thrust of plaintiffs' challenge to the redevelopment-area designation and redevelopment plan is that the constitutional and statutory standards governing the determination by municipal agencies that an area is in need of redevelopment were not complied with. While we appreciate the validity of plaintiffs' expressed philosophical and jurisprudential concerns, we are persuaded that those concerns are not here implicated. In sum, we agree with Judge Weiss, based on the record of the municipal action as supplemented by the testimony taken by him, that there was substantial evidence to support the municipal designation of the area as in need of redevelopment and to warrant municipal adoption of the redevelopment plan. *fn1
The nub of plaintiffs' argument is that there was an insufficient basis to justify the finding that the designated area was, as constitutionally required, blighted. They claim that the present governing statute, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 to -49, the 1992 Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL), was misconstrued by defendants as not requiring a prerequisite blight determination and that defendants proceeded with their designation of the redevelopment area without meeting the blight standard. We disagree. In evaluating plaintiffs' argument, we start, as do they, with the legislative framework. We begin with N.J. Const. art. VIII, § 3, ¶ 1, which provides in full as follows:
The clearance, replanning, development or redevelopment of blighted areas shall be a public purpose and public use, for which private property may be taken or acquired. Municipal, public or private corporations may be authorized by law to undertake such clearance, replanning, development or redevelopment; and improvements made for these purposes and uses, or for any of them, may be exempted from taxation, in whole or in part, for a limited period of time during which the profits of and dividends payable by any private corporation enjoying such tax exemption shall be limited by law. The conditions of use, ownership, management and control of such improvements shall be regulated by law.
This provision of the Constitution provided authorization for this State's initial redevelopment law, the Blighted Area Act, N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1, first adopted by L. 1949, c. 187 *fn2 and thereafter amended, as well as the various implementing and related legislative enactments that followed. *fn3 By L. 1992, c. 79, the Legislature replaced what had by then become a patchwork of separate enactments by adopting the LRHL. Prior to the enactment of the LRHL and consistent with the scope of the constitutional authorization, a finding of blight was the expressly-stated, statutorily mandated precondition for the designation of a redevelopment area. See former N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.6. Although the Constitution did not define blight, the Legislature promptly undertook to do so in its original enactment of N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1, which had defined that term as follows:
1. As used in this act, the term "blighted area" shall mean an area in any municipality wherein there exists to a large extent:
(a) Buildings and structures which are unfit, unsanitary and unsafe for human use and habitation by reason of age, physical deterioration, dilapidation or obsolescence;
(b) Buildings and structures which are so situated and used as to have therein more inhabitants than can be fitly and safely housed;
(c) Buildings and structures which have economically deteriorated and where there is a disproportion between the cost of municipal services rendered to the area as ...