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Green Meadows at Montville v. Planning Board of the Township of Montville

February 25, 2000

GREEN MEADOWS AT MONTVILLE, L.L.C., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PLANNING BOARD OF THE TOWNSHIP OF MONTVILLE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Before Judges Baime, Brochin and Wecker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brochin, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued December 15, 1999

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

Plaintiff Green Meadows at Montville, L.L.C. applied to defendant Planning Board of the Township of Montville for approval of a proposal to subdivide an undeveloped tract of approximately 8.5 acres into eight lots for the construction of one-family homes. The Board denied the application. Plaintiff appealed to the Law Division by an action in lieu of prerogative writs. The Law Division (Honorable Reginald Stanton, A.J.S.C.) reversed the Planning Board's decision and ordered the Board to grant plaintiff "preliminary and final major subdivision approval, variances and exceptions in accordance with [plaintiff's] plans." Defendant has appealed. For the following reasons, we affirm.

Plaintiff's tract is zoned for one-family residences. It is roughly the shape of a right-angled triangle. *fn1 A strip of land that was formerly part of the Morris Canal and is now owned by the Township runs along the northwestern edge of the tract, forming the hypotenuse of the triangle. Route 287 running approximately east and west in the vicinity of the tract lies immediately to the south and marks the longer of the other two sides. The easterly edge of the tract is bounded by a previously developed section of the Township. That boundary runs approximately north and south and forms the shorter leg of the "triangle." Kokora Street and Moore Road, running approximately east and west through the development that lies to the east of the subject property, both dead-end at the tract's eastern boundary. Approximately one-third of the length of the tract's eastern boundary is north of the end of Kokora Street and two-thirds, south of it.

Kokora Street is approximately 885 feet long and has a 40-foot right of way, but its improved width is only 12 to 14 feet. There is no turn-around area at its current dead-end. Plaintiff's subdivision plan calls for extending Kokora Street into the tract 850 feet and widening the paved surface of the street to a width of 20 feet along its entire length. On entering the tract, the street would run parallel to its northwesterly boundary (the "hypotenuse") for about two-thirds of the length of the street; Kokora Street would then turn slightly so that it runs east and west, terminating in a circular turn-around area that would abut the northwesterly boundary of the tract. Three building lots are to be located north of Kokora Street and five lots south of it.

Montville's zoning ordinance requires every lot to have a rectangular area of 5000 square feet within the prescribed building lines. A proposed lot, triangular in shape, which is located at the westerly apex of the tract has been designated as lot 30.04. It is adjacent to Route 287 to its south and to the former Morris Canal property to its northwest. The circular portion of the turn-around area which plaintiff's plan shows as the proposed termination of Kokora Street cuts a scallop out of the northeast corner of lot 30.04. As a consequence, although there is a 5000 square foot buildable area within lot 30.04, that area is not rectangular.

The Township zoning ordinance also requires every lot to have a depth of 150 feet. Immediately to the east of lot 30.04, adjacent to Route 287 on its south and to the extension of Kokora Street on its north, is lot 30.05. The depth of lots 30.04 and 30.05 measured at their common side-yard boundary is 106.3 feet.

The Township's subdivision design standards require a sidewalk on at least one side of a road and they limit the length of a dead-end street to 1000 feet. Plaintiff's development plan does not contemplate a sidewalk for Kokora Street and the planned extension would make the total length of the street approximately 1735 feet.

In all respects other than these, including area, coverage, and setbacks, plaintiff's development plan fully conforms to the material requirements of the Township's zoning and subdivision ordinances and regulations. If lots 30.04 and 30.05 were combined to form a single lot, reducing the subdivision to seven lots in total, there would be no need for any variance. Waivers would still be needed, however, because the length of Kokora Street, although shorter than presently planned, would still exceed 1000 feet and the street would still lack a sidewalk.

The Planning Board's resolution denying plaintiff's application for subdivision approval concludes that "good cause has not been shown to approve the application of Green Meadows at Montville, LLC (Park Lane Estates) for preliminary and final subdivision approval"; that "the strict application of the applicable Township ordinances would not result in any peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties to, or exceptional and undue hardship upon, the applicant and that, therefore, the variances and waivers should not be granted"; that "the purposes of the Municipal Land Use Law and the Ordinances of Montville Township would not be advanced by a deviation from the zoning requirements, and the benefits of such deviation would not substantially outweigh any detriment"; and that "the relief sought can not be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and without substantial impairment to the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinances of the Township of Montville."

The Board's resolution gives the following reasons for these conclusions and for its denial of the subdivision application. (1) Allowing subdivision of the tract into eight lots would permit "too intense a use for this location . . . [without] benefit to the public, the Township, or its zoning scheme." (2) The extension of Kokora Street with the proposed width of 20 feet will add an additional 850 feet to its length "which will exacerbate an already existing condition with this street's cul-de-sac." (3) There are wetlands on the property; it is close to Route 287, the Morris Canal, and Township owned property. (4) The Township's master plan identifies the tract as a potential site for a neighborhood park. (5) Plaintiff's plan does not provide for a turn-around area for emergency vehicles at the end of Moore Road as requested by the Montville Fire Prevention Bureau. (6) Because of the wetlands on the property, "the Board is not satisfied" that the project "would not adversely impact the subject property and neighborhood from a drainage point of view." (7) The Morris County Planning Board has stated its preference for lot 30.04 to remain undeveloped because of its proximity to Route 287; this lot violates the 5000 square foot building area requirement and, even if that requirement could be met, there is an issue whether "such a building envelope, because of its unique shape, would be of sufficient size and proportion to allow construction of a house having reasonable proportions and in keeping with the spirit and intent of the appropriate Township ordinances." (8) Since a seven-lot subdivision could be constructed on the site with no variances required, "the Board does not view it as in the best interests of public health, safety and welfare to grant the relief requested by the applicant."

In Pizzo Mantin Group v. Township of Randolph, 137 N.J. 216, 229 (1994), our Supreme Court held that "The mandate under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-48 that on compliance with the subdivision ordinance and the MLUL [Municipal Land Use Law] the application 'shall' be approved supports . . . [the] conclusion" that "a planning board's review of a subdivision proposal, including the layout of the entire design, must be made within the framework of the standards prescribed by the subdivision and, if pertinent, the zoning ordinances." Planning Boards do not have the authority to deny an application for subdivision approval "based on considerations of the general welfare, the purposes of the Municipal Land Use Law, and sound planning." Id. at 219; see William M. Cox, New Jersey Zoning and Land Use Administration, ยง 4-3.1 at 68 (1999). If denial of a variance or waiver ...


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