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Pio Costa Enterprises v. Township of Montville

April 11, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, L-0936-03.

Per curiam.


Argued February 26, 2008

Before Judges Fuentes, Grall and Chambers.

Plaintiff Pio Costa Enterprises appeals from the judgment dated April 16, 2007, upholding Ordinance 2003-12 (the Ordinance) of the defendant Township of Montville (the Township). The Ordinance includes a portion of plaintiff's land within the Restricted Area of the Critical Water Resource District and prohibits community wells within the Restricted Area. Plaintiff contends that this prohibition of community wells is arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable. Since the record reveals a reasonable basis for this restriction, we affirm.


The Towaco Valley Aquifer (the Aquifer), which is located within the boundaries of the Township, provides water to over ninety percent of the Township's 18,000 residents who are served by public water. The Aquifer is considered a stressed resource, and since 1979, the Township has taken measures to protect this water supply. The Township has created a Critical Water Resource District (the District) consisting of two parts: the Prime Aquifer Area, which is located directly over the Aquifer, and the Restricted Area, which is located around the Aquifer and provides recharge water to the Aquifer. The Ordinance expanded the Township's Restricted Area in order to provide further protection for the Aquifer's recharge water. In addition, the Ordinance permits only "individual private residential wells" within the Restricted Area, thereby prohibiting community wells there.*fn1

Plaintiff owns 394 acres in the Township which it plans to develop into forty-eight single family homes. Due to the Ordinance's expansion of the Restricted Area, about sixty percent of plaintiff's land now falls within the Restricted Area. Plaintiff plans to construct twenty-four of its forty-eight homes on this portion of its property. As a result, plaintiff cannot use a community well on the portion of its property within the Restricted Area to provide water to its development.

Plaintiff commenced this declaratory action challenging the inclusion of its property within the Restricted Area and challenging the prohibition against community wells, among other issues. After conducting a four-day bench trial, the trial judge upheld the Ordinance, finding that the Township had a reasonable basis to include plaintiff's property within the Restricted Area on the basis that the groundwater below plaintiff's property contributed to the recharge of the Aquifer. Plaintiff does not challenge this holding on appeal. The trial judge also upheld the provision of the Ordinance allowing only individual private residential wells within the Restricted Area. Plaintiff appeals this portion of the trial judge's decision, contending that the limitation to individual private residential wells is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.


Municipalities possess a broad police power to zone property for the public good provided they act within the confines of the legislature's delegation of authority to them. Pheasant Bridge Corp. v. Twp. of Warren, 169 N.J. 282, 289 (2001), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1077, 122 S.Ct. 1959, 152 L.Ed. 2d 1020 (2002). Zoning ordinances enjoy a strong presumption of validity. Ibid. The party seeking to set aside the ordinance has the burden of overcoming this presumption. Riggs v. Twp. of Long Beach, 109 N.J. 601, 611 (1988). The court does not judge the wisdom of the ordinance; that is a legislative function. Pheasant Bridge Corp. v. Twp. of Warren, supra, 169 N.J. at 290. However, a zoning ordinance will be overturned where it is "clearly arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or plainly contrary to fundamental principles of zoning or the [zoning] statute." Ibid. (quoting Bow & Arrow Manor, Inc. v. Town of W. Orange, 63 N.J. 335, 343 (1973)). The appellate court applies this same standard of review. Charlie Brown of Chatham, Inc. v. Bd. of Adj. of Chatham, 202 N.J. Super. 312, 321 (App. Div. 1985).

In evaluating the reasonableness of an ordinance, the court must look at "the relationship between the means and ends of the ordinance." Pheasant Bridge Corp. v. Twp. of Warren, supra, 169 N.J. at 290. A "real and substantial" relationship must exist between the goal sought to be achieved by the ordinance and the means selected; that is, the provisions of the ordinance must be "reasonably calculated to meet the evil." Ibid. (quoting Kirsch Holding Co. v. Borough of Manasquan, 59 N.J. 241, 251 (1971). Further, the regulation or proscription in the ordinance should not be substantially broader than needed to address the problem. Ibid. (stating that the regulation must not "exceed the public need or substantially affect uses which do not partake of the offensive character of those which cause the problem sought to be ameliorated").

The record indicates that the water within the Restricted Area serves an important recharge function for the sensitive balance of the Aquifer. Accordingly, the Township's attempt to regulate the water in the Restricted Area to avoid a negative impact upon the Aquifer furthers the public health, safety and general welfare of the municipality, a valid goal of a zoning ordinance. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-2(a). Water used by households within the Restricted Area, through septic systems, lawn watering and pool discharges, becomes part of the recharge water that flows from the Restricted Area to the Aquifer. As a result, the Township could properly impose a restriction designed to keep the water already within the Restricted Area from being used to service needs outside the Restricted Area and District, so that the water is not lost to the Aquifer.

The Township presented evidence that a community well within the Restricted Area providing water to property outside of the Restricted Area and District would reduce the quantity of water available to recharge the Aquifer. Thus, a community well on plaintiff's property, within the Restricted Area but providing water to households ...

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