December 20, 2011
ELEANOR J. LEWIS, KENNETH L. FIELDS, ALICE FIELDS, BAOLIN WANG, XIANG Q. LIU, A/K/A HELEN XIANG LIU, GREGORY BLANK, KSANA BLANK, JOSEPH L. KING, KATHRYN KING, WILLIAM M. CRANE AND LISA CRANE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
RIDER UNIVERSITY AND PRINCETON REGIONAL PLANNING BOARD, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-1415-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 5, 2011
Before Judges Parrillo, Alvarez and Skillman.
Plaintiffs, who reside on Linden Lane in the Borough of Princeton and Princeton Township, appeal from a final judgment of the Law Division, which dismissed their complaint challenging the validity of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton's approval of an application by Rider University for site plan approval for a proposed expanded parking area within the campus of the University's Westminster Choir College in the Borough. We affirm.
The Westminster Choir College is located on an approximately 18.25-acre campus consisting of classrooms, dormitories, office areas, performance space, parking areas in the Borough of Princeton, and landscaped areas. A parking lot is a permitted use in the zoning district where the campus is located.
Under the applicable zoning, the campus should have a total of 444 parking spaces. However, it currently has only 285 parking spaces. The University proposes to add 91 additional parking spaces in the expanded parking area. The construction of those spaces would result in a total of 376 parking spaces, which would still be less than the required number.
The proposed new parking area within the Westminster Choir College conforms in all respects with the bulk requirements of the zoning ordinance. While the application for site plan approval was pending before the Board, the University revised its plan to locate the new parking spaces further from plaintiffs' homes than under the original plan and to reduce their impact upon neighboring properties in other ways such as enhanced landscaping.
By a resolution adopted on April 20, 2010, which was supported by detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Board approved the University's application for site plan approval, concluding that the University had satisfied the site plan review requirements of Borough Ordinance § 17A-193.
Plaintiffs then filed this action challenging that approval. By an oral opinion rendered on February 18, 2011, which was memorialized by a final judgment entered on March 3, 2011, Judge Feinberg rejected the challenge.
On appeal, plaintiffs' primary argument is that the site plan approval for the University's proposed expanded parking facilities should be vacated because the Board failed to adequately explore whether the University plans to use those parking facilities in connection with an undisclosed plan to construct a new performing arts center on the Westminster College campus. This argument is clearly without merit and only requires brief discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1).
The Board properly concluded that the possibility that the University will expand the Westminster College campus at some future date was not relevant to its entitlement to site plan approval for the proposed expanded parking facilities, noting that "[t]he testimony indicates that there is an existing need for parking on the campus without considering future expansions." "[A] planning board's authority in reviewing a site plan application is limited to determining whether the plan conforms with the municipality's zoning and site plan ordinances." Sartoga v. Borough of W. Paterson, 346 N.J. Super. 569, 581 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 172 N.J. 357 (2002); accord Goodfellows v. Washington Twp. Planning Bd., 345 N.J. Super. 109, 115-17 (App. Div. 2001); Shim v Washington Twp. Planning Bd., 298 N.J. Super. 395, 411 (App. Div. 1997). Plaintiffs do not dispute that the University's revised site plan conforms with the Borough of Princeton's zoning and site plan ordinances. Therefore, the Board was required to approve the plan, subject to the imposition of reasonable conditions, which the Board did.
Plaintiffs also argue that the University's notice of its application for site plan approval did not conform with N.J.S.A. 40:55D-12 because it did not disclose the University's alleged plans to expand the Westminster College campus by constructing a performing arts center. However, even if the University had such plans (and the record indicates that the possibility of such future construction is contingent upon success in fundraising and other uncertainties), there would be no need to mention them in the application for site plan approval for expanded parking facilities that the University needs irrespective of whether it ever proceeds with construction of a new performing arts center. As Judge Feinberg stated:
. . . In this case the notice was for a parking lot. It was to add additional parking spaces, and under [N.J.S.A.] 40:55D-12 that's exactly what they did. There is nothing defective about the notice.
Finally, plaintiffs argue that the site plan approval must be vacated because the Board failed to make adequate findings concerning the need for additional parking facilities on the Westminster College campus. However, as previously noted, the University was not required to show that it had a need for additional parking facilities to obtain site plan approval. It was only required to show that the site plan "conforms with the municipality's zoning and site plan ordinances." Sartoga, supra, 346 N.J. Super. at 581. In any event, the Board expressly found that "there is an existing need for [additional] parking on the [Westminster College] campus," and this finding is amply supported by the evidence developed at the hearing before the Board.
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