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Woodmont Properties v. Meola Builders

October 11, 2011

WOODMONT PROPERTIES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MEOLA BUILDERS, INC., AND THE PLANNING BOARD OF THE TOWNSHIP OF DENVILLE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1326-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued: September 14, 2011

Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.

In this land use case, plaintiff, Woodmont Properties, appeals from two final judgments of the Law Division dismissing its complaint. By order of January 2, 2008, Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis rejected Woodmont's prerogative writs challenge to the Denville Planning Board's (Board) approval of a conforming four-lot subdivision of an adjoining property owned by defendant, Meola Builders, Inc. (Meola), finding it was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Following a bench trial, by order of September 23, 2010, Judge Rosemary E. Ramsay dismissed the balance of Woodmont's complaint alleging breach of contract against Meola in failing to submit a joint application to develop their two parcels, finding the parties did not reach a meeting of the minds on the essential terms. We affirm.

On February 12, 2007, Meola filed an application for a four-lot preliminary major subdivision for its property known as Block 20202, Lot 12 in Denville. Following a public hearing on February 28, 2007, the Board unanimously voted to approve the application, memorialized in a resolution adopted on April 11, 2007.

On May 9, 2007, Woodmont filed a three-count complaint in the Law Division alleging, in the first count, a prerogative writs challenge to the Board's approval of Meola's subdivision, and in the second and third counts, a breach of contract claim against Meola. The second count sought specific performance and the third count sought damages for breach of contract. Defendants filed answers. Judge Bozonelis then bifurcated the case between the prerogative writs count and the contract counts, commencing with the prerogative writs claim. Following argument on November 30, 2007, he denied Woodmont's motion to expand the record and file an amended complaint and Meola's motion to expand the record, sustained the Board's approval of Meola's preliminary major subdivision application, and dismissed, with prejudice, the first count of Woodmont's complaint. A memorializing order was entered on January 2, 2008.

The trial on the remaining claims was held before Judge Ramsay on April 21 and 22, 2010. On September 3, 2010, the judge rendered an oral decision finding in favor of Meola and dismissing the balance of Woodmont's complaint with prejudice. A memorializing final judgment was entered on September 23, 2010. This appeal ensued.

On appeal, Woodmont asserts the following arguments in connection with its prerogative writs claim: (1) the Board's refusal to grant Woodmont an adjournment was unreasonable under the circumstances and requires a remand; (2) the standard of review does not require deference to the Board or trial court on questions of law or legal consequences; (3) the court erred when it denied Woodmont's motion to expand the record; (4) the court erred in its finding that the Board considered the impact of the Meola subdivision application on the Woodmont lot; (5) even if the Board did consider the impact, the court erred in finding the Board's decision was not arbitrary; and (6) to the extent the Board found there were other options for obtaining access to the Woodmont lot or that the access issue was self-created, its findings were arbitrary, not based on evidence in the record, and should have been disregarded.

In the contract action, Woodmont argues the court's conclusion that there was not an enforceable contract was reversible error because it was not based on adequate, substantial and credible evidence in the record.

We are not persuaded by any of Woodmont's arguments. Based on our review of the record and applicable law, we are satisfied the Board's and courts' determinations are amply supported by the record.

I. Prerogative Writs Claim

A.

The Meola lot contains approximately six acres and has frontage on Mount Pleasant Turnpike. The adjoining Woodmont lot,*fn1 designated as Block 20202, Lot 2, consists of approximately two and one-half acres, and is located to the south of Meola's property. It is land-locked and does not have access to Mount Pleasant Turnpike or any existing roadways.

In or around August 2006, Meola filed an application with the Board for preliminary major subdivision to create a four-lot single-family development that conformed to all pertinent zoning requirements, did not require variances, and did not impact steep slopes, wetlands or flood zones. The proposed subdivision did not provide access to the Woodmont parcel so it did not enable the Woodmont parcel to gain access to any surrounding roadways through Meola's property. The application was withdrawn shortly afterwards when Woodmont's principal, Donald Witmondt, approached Meola's principal, Michael Meola, Sr., to discuss potential coordination of a joint project whereby Woodmont could gain access to Mount Pleasant Turnpike through Meola's property. Woodmont proposed a new six-lot subdivision plan by which Meola would obtain four lots and Woodmont would obtain two lots, and access would be created by extending the proposed cul-de-sac to run from Meola's lot to Woodmont's lot.

Meola decided against submission of Woodmont's proposed plan and sent the requisite ten-day statutory notice that it was pursuing its original four-lot application with the Board at a public hearing scheduled for February 28, 2007. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-12b.*fn2 By letter of February 21, 2007, Woodmont requested a thirty-day adjournment of the hearing, advising it had learned the prior week that Meola was unwilling to proceed with the joint subdivision application and it needed time to prepare its opposition to Meola's application. Meola opposed the request, emphasizing that Woodmont was familiar with the application as a result of the numerous, albeit unsuccessful, discussions between the parties to negotiate a subdivision involving both of their properties.

At the outset of the public hearing on February 28, 2007, the Board considered and unanimously denied Woodmont's adjournment request. The Board noted Woodmont's longstanding familiarity with Meola's proposed four-lot subdivision and its apparent readiness to present expert testimony at the hearing in opposition to the application. The Board concluded the requisite ...


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