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Medical Center at Princeton v. Township of Princeton Zoning Board of Adjustment

June 28, 2001

THE MEDICAL CENTER AT PRINCETON AND PRINCETON MEDICAL PROPERTIES, INC., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
THE TOWNSHIP OF PRINCETON ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT, MUNICIPAL AGENCY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND THE TOWNSHIP OF PRINCETON, MUNICIPAL AGENCY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND JENNY CRUMILLER, JON CRUMILLER, ANITA GARONIAK, MARC MONSEAU, SUSANNA MONSEAU, DENNIS STARK, LISBETH WINARSKY AND NORMAN WINARSKY, DEFENDANTS/INTERVENORS-RESPONDENTS.
THE MEDICAL CENTER AT PRINCETON AND PRINCETON MEDICAL PROPERTIES, INC., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS/ CROSS-APPELLANTS,
v.
THE TOWNSHIP OF PRINCETON ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT, MUNICIPAL AGENCY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND THE TOWNSHIP OF PRINCETON, MUNICIPAL AGENCY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT/ CROSS-RESPONDENT, AND JENNY CRUMILLER, JON CRUMILLER, ANITA GARONIAK, MARC MONSEAU, SUSANNA MONSEAU, DENNIS STARK, LISBETH WINARSKY AND NORMAN WINARSKY, DEFENDANTS/INTERVENORS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, L-380-99.

Before Judges Wallace, Jr., Carchman and Lintner.

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

As amended December 3, 2001.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 24, 2001

These consolidated appeals and the underlying litigation reflect the tension between a well-established hospital forced to expand and modify its services and facilities to meet the changing needs of a modern, yet increasingly competitive health- care provider to its constituent community, and a likewise well- established residential community that seeks to preserve the nature and integrity of its character and surroundings. The intent of both the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -136, and decisions interpreting this statute provide an appropriate methodology for harmonizing these worthy but sometimes conflicting interests.

The issue presented on this appeal is whether the "back- office" functions of an admittedly inherently beneficial use under the MLUL, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70d, (section d), fall within the umbrella of the core use so as preclude the necessity of applying the enhanced burden of proof required for section d relief. Defendant Township of Princeton Zoning Board (the Board) denied the requested relief and, after appeal to the Law Division, Judge Feinberg, in a carefully reasoned and thorough opinion, answered the question in the positive.

We acknowledge that certain of the "back-office" functions of an admittedly inherently beneficial use may acquire the attributes of the primary or core-use. However, we conclude that the Board must apply a three-pronged test in determining the threshold question of whether certain uses which are not generally deemed inherently beneficial can be included within the scope of an inherently beneficial use. A zoning board must: (1) identify the proposed use and delineate its function; (2) establish how the proposed use is integrated into the core function of the inherently beneficial use; and (3) establish why the specific location of the proposed use is necessary to advance the purpose of inherently beneficial use. We deem this three- part test to be the threshold analysis prior to any Sica*fn1 analysis.

In applying this test, we require that the Board deal with each proposed use and function as discrete and independent and make specific findings as to each proposed use rather than addressing the uses collectively.

We accordingly affirm the judgment of Judge Feinberg remanding this matter to the Board, and the Board shall reconsider the proposed application consistent with this opinion. We further affirm the judgment upholding the validity of Princeton Township Ordinance 95-26.

I.

A.

We briefly set forth the procedural posture of this appeal. Plaintiffs The Medical Center at Princeton and Princeton Medical Properties, Inc. (PMP)*fn2 (collectively "the Medical Center" or "hospital") filed an order to show cause and a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs seeking: (1) a declaration that the Board erred in determining that the use of five properties, located on Harris Road adjacent to the hospital, as offices was not an inherently beneficial use; (2) a declaration that the Board erred in denying the use variances; (3) a declaration that Princeton Township Ordinance 95-26 (the Ordinance) was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable; and (4) a stay of the enforcement of that Ordinance.

Responding to the order to show cause, Judge Feinberg imposed a stay that prohibited the Township from enforcing the Ordinance. The judge then granted leave to eight neighboring property owners, Jenny Crumiller, Jon Crumiller, Anita Garoniak, Marc Monseau, Susanna Monseau, Dennis Stark, Lisbeth Winarsky and Norman Winarsky (collectively "intervenors"), to intervene in opposition to the hospital's complaint. Thereafter, the judge issued a written decision remanding the variance case to the Board, but upholding the validity of the ordinance. The Board and intervenors filed notices of appeal, and the hospital filed a notice of cross-appeal. We subsequently issued an order permitting the Borough of Princeton to appear as amicus curiae.

B.

Because of the long history of discord between the hospital and its neighbors, we commence our analysis by presenting an extensive and extravagant exposition of the factual background of this dispute.

The hospital is an acute health care facility that has served the Princeton and surrounding communities for approximately eighty years. During that period, the hospital has expanded from a donated farm house to a regional facility attempting to keep pace with the changing face of the health care profession and demands to remain competitive by being "state of the art." The hospital occupies an area in the Township consisting of five acres bordered, in part, by twenty-four residential lots. This area, which includes properties located on Harris Road, is referred to as the "hospital block." The hospital began acquiring these properties in 1958, and now owns twenty-three of the twenty-four properties.

This appeal focuses on five properties that were originally used as single-family and duplex residences and are located on the west side of Harris Road between Franklin and Henry Avenues in the Township's R-8 residential zone. The properties are located at street numbers 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 30 and 36 Harris Road, also known as section 36.01, lots 10, 11, 32, 36, 37, and 39, and block 7101, lots 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9 on the municipal tax map. The buildings erected on these lots total 9304 square feet. As the hospital's medical services expanded, it utilized these acquired properties for administrative purposes, with specific uses changing as the needs of the hospital changed. We summarize the present and proposed uses of these properties abutting the hospital as follows:

ADDRESS OWNER YEAR ACQUIRED PROPOSED USE PRESENT USE

10 Harris Rd. PMP 1990 public relations accounting

12-14 Harris Rd. PMP 1991/1994 accounting vacant

16-18 Harris Rd. PMP 1982 accounting accounting

30 Harris Rd. Med. Ctr. 1984 planning, fund-raising planning, fund-raising, public relations

36 Harris Rd. Med. Ctr. 1976 purchasing purchasing

The nine thousand square feet encompassed by these administrative offices comprises in excess of one-third of the hospital's total space.

The following properties are also located on the west side of Harris Road:

ADDRESS OWNER YEAR ACQUIRED LOCATION PRESENT USE

2-4 Harris Rd. PMP 1990 Borough vacant

6 Harris Rd. PMP 1991/1994 Borough vacant

22 Harris Rd. Med. Ctr. 1982 Township vacant

26 Harris Rd. Mrs. Carnevale N/A Township residence

42 Harris Rd. Med. Ctr. 1965 Township short-term employee housing

In addition to these facilities, the hospital maintains other non-adjacent medical facilities in the community, including the Merwick Sub-Acute Rehabilitation Unit on Bayard Lane, the Princeton House on Herrontown Road, and an office complex with the Home Care Division on Bunn Drive.

The hospital's historical presence in the community has been the subject of extensive discussions by the Township, the Borough, and those agencies charged with enforcing the MLUL. An understanding of the relationship and evolution of the hospital's land uses and municipal land use planning is essential to understanding the present controversy.

Because of the geographic relationship and common interests of Princeton Township and the Borough, both municipalities joined in creating a regional planning board. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-77. The Princeton Regional Planning Board (the Regional Board) is responsible for planning issues of both the Township and the Borough. The 1968 Princeton Community Master Plan (the Master Plan) provided that the growth of hospital facilities would take place within the Borough for the most part, but it endorsed the expansion of the Medical Center's hospital uses to the full block bounded by Franklin Avenue, Witherspoon Street, Henry Avenue, and Harris Road.

The 1980 Master Plan states, in relevant part:

The Regional Planning Board endorses retention of the Medical Center at Princeton's hospital facilities within the Princeton community to ensure continued availability of its excellent health care services to the residents. With this endorsement, the Regional Planning Board recognizes that some changes and reasonable growth of existing facilities may be required in the future. All such changes, however, should be examined carefully to ensure that the surrounding established residential neighborhoods are not unduly affected by increasing traffic and parking problems and buildings of overwhelming height and scale.

The Board believes that the existing hospital site should be reserved for the hospital and hospital-related facilities only. Designation of a specific zone for that purpose would lend confidence both to the hospital's neighbors in the future integrity of their residential districts and to the Medical Center in the community's support for its continued service to Princeton and its environs. The Center's planning for future expansion should be guided by coherent and uniform bulk regulations, implicit in [the] the establishment of such a zone, rather than the present frustrating and cumbersome dual variance application approach to both Borough and Township agencies, which is dictated by the hospital's present setting in their residential districts. The Board therefore recommends the establishment of a hospital zone by Borough and Township ordinances for the block bounded by Witherspoon Street, Franklin Avenue, Harris Road and Henry Avenue.

The Board stresses, however, its determined intent to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood. It explicitly recommends that no exceptions to existing building height and front setback limitations should be allowed for the present and future lots fronting to a depth of 155 feet on the west side of Harris Road.

The Planning Board appreciates and commends the Medical Center's past efforts toward decentralization of its facilities. These have resulted in the transfer of certain uses from the existing buildings on Witherspoon Street to the Center's other properties, such as Princeton House, in the northern Township Service Zone, and Merwick. The Board urges the Medical Center, as future planning develops, to continue to explore the prospects for additional transfers, if feasible, in order to make way for necessary future expansion of the hospital-related facilities.

In 1982 the Township created the H-2 zoning district (hospital zone) at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Henry Avenue, which allowed for construction of the Medical Arts Building. The hospital zone includes only the hospital's main hospital building in the Borough and the Medical Arts Building in the Township.

The 1989 Master Plan provided that in 1988, the Medical Center was located on three sites in Princeton Borough and Township: (1) the Princeton Hospital site on Witherspoon Street; (2) the Merwick Unit, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility located on a nine-acre site on Bayard Lane; and (3) the Princeton House Unit, a mental health facility located on a ten-acre site on Herrontown Road. The 1989 Master Plan states: "The Medical Center has been developing outpatient facilities in surrounding communities which it also serves. Expansion of certain hospital facilities, however, can be accommodated only at the central building in Princeton." In addition, that Plan states:

In accordance with the agreement that grew out of a recommendation made by the Regional Planning Board in the 1980 Master Plan, future expansions which must be made at the Medical Center itself, such as technical and intensive care facilities, will be contained within the existing hospital zone. Expansions that do not need to be at the Center will be located in decentralized clinics. Careful planning will be necessary to ameliorate adverse impacts upon adjacent neighborhoods.

Addressing the area of public health, the Plan also provides:

The Regional Planning Board continues to endorse retention of the hospital facilities of the Medical Center within the Princeton community to ensure continued availability of its excellent health care services to Princeton residents. With this endorsement, the Regional Planning Board recognizes that some changes and reasonable growth of existing facilities may be required in the future. All such changes, however, should be examined carefully to ensure that the surrounding established residential neighborhoods are not unduly affected by increasing traffic and parking problems and buildings of overwhelming height and scale.

Hospital facilities that must be located at the Medical Center, such as technical and intensive care facilities, should be located within the block bounded by Witherspoon Street, Franklin Avenue, Harris Road and Henry Avenue as recommended by the 1980 Master Plan. Otherwise, Medical Center facilities should be decentralized to the greatest extent possible. Strategies for mitigating adverse impacts upon surrounding neighborhoods should be incorporated into any future proposed expansion. One concern centers upon the issue of parking, often compounded by hospital visitors and staff members parking on adjacent residential streets rather than using the Medical Center parking garage. Office space leased by the Medical Center should include leased parking spaces in the garage for the lessee's employees.

Another concern centers on protection of the residential streets bordering the hospital (Franklin, Harris and Henry). The Planning Board, therefore, supports the Medical Center's past efforts towards decentralization of its facilities. These have resulted in the transfer of certain uses from the existing buildings on Witherspoon Street to Princeton House and Merwick, and the development of outpatient facilities in surrounding communities. As future planning develops, the Board urges the Medical Center to continue to explore the prospects for additional transfers where feasible in order to adequately provide for necessary future expansion of the facilities which can only be located in the central hospital.

In March 1994, while presenting an application for a floor-area-ratio variance related to the construction of an expansion to a parking garage, the hospital revealed that for a number of years it had used the properties located at numbers 10, 16-18, 22, 30, and 36 Harris Road for non-residential hospital functions in violation of the Township's hospital zoning ordinance. The Township zoning officer threatened prosecution, and the hospital responded with an application to the Board for conditional-use approval to utilize these dwellings for administrative hospital functions.

On February 15, 1995, the Board granted a use variance for the hospital's construction of a parking garage expansion.

On October 16, 1995, the Princeton Township Committee enacted Ordinance 95-26, which provides:

1. The conditional use table set forth at Section 10B-320 of the "Code of the Township of Princeton, New Jersey, 1968" at subparagraph (h), is amended by deleting therefrom the ...


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