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Craig Lange and Cathleen Crawford v. Planning Board of the Township of Franklin

May 16, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-1583-10.

Per curiam.


Submitted March 27, 2012

Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.

Plaintiffs Craig Lange and Cathleen Crawford appeal from the June 27, 2011 order of the Law Division dismissing their complaint in lieu of prerogative writs and affirming the decision rendered by defendant Franklin Township Planning Board. We affirm.

The facts are undisputed. Plaintiffs are the owners of a home in Franklin Township situated on a 13.82-acre lot, fronting on Tuckahoe Road. Lange and Crawford reside in the home and access their property from Tuckahoe Road, where they have 161.18 feet of frontage.

Defendants Fred and Roberta Schiavone own and reside in a home on a nearby parcel of 19.17 acres with 330 feet of frontage on Dutch Mill Road. The parcel extends back approximately 2200 feet from Dutch Mill Road. Approximately 1232 feet of the Schiavones' easterly property line adjoins the entire westerly border of plaintiffs' lot.

In July, 2008, the Schiavones sought preliminary approval for a major subdivision to create four building lots in addition to their home. Their application was compliant with the Pinelands Rural Residential Zoning district, which mandates that every lot is at least 3.4 acres. Their proposal required the construction of an access road from Dutch Mill Road that would run parallel to the westerly border of plaintiffs' property, terminating with a cul-de-sac near plaintiffs' home.

The only variance requested by the Schiavones related to the location of their existing residence and the proposed access road. They submitted a Pinelands Certificate of Filing and completed a Phase One Environmental Assessment.

The Franklin Township Planning Board*fn1 considered the Schiavones' application on November 18, 2008, at a public hearing. Crawford appeared at the hearing and testified that she was concerned with traffic on the access road and the effect of proposed street lights near her home. She suggested a "buffer" between her property line and the access road, but was clear that she did not object to the proposed subdivision and development:

I don't want to stop it [the subdivision].

I just want to make sure that I preserve my property and the reason I bought it.

On December 16, 2008, the Board adopted a resolution granting preliminary approval of the Schiavones' application and required the final plan to provide for a buffer*fn2 between the access road and plaintiffs' property line:

The applicants, as part of the final plan, shall provide an additional buffer between the newly created roadway and the property owner to the east and shall plant white pines in the buffer area.

On February 17, 2009, the Board met and heard testimony from the Schiavones' engineer, Stephen Filippone, who explained that the proposal had been revised to accommodate Crawford's concerns by substituting more "traditional" street lights and including the buffer strip:

The Board had given us a reduction on the 200 foot agricultural buffer to 150 feet recognizing that it allowed the [proposed] houses to maybe shift away from [Crawford's] property. It gave us the ability to move the road a little further from [Crawford]. She was, you know, requesting that a street not be built in her backyard, and we think we've done so by shifting the road. We've provided a buffer not to be cleared. I've also added evergreen trees within the buffer for the cul-de-sac, and you know, I thought I was amending the plan to comply with the neighbor.

The engineer for the Board, Gary White, then noted that Crawford had retained counsel who had sent a letter to the Board withdrawing her request for a buffer.

Crawford testified that she was "comfortable" with the new lighting proposal and had been under the impression that her home was much closer to the development than it actually was.*fn3 However, she opposed the buffer because she felt it would limit her ability to access the new road in the event she wanted to subdivide her property.

On February 27, 2009, the Schiavones' application, including a 10' wide buffer strip, was granted final approval. The Board also waived compliance with a local ordinance requiring reserve strips to be conveyed to the Township (the conveyance requirement). That ordinance provides:

No subdivision showing reserve strips controlling access to streets shall be approved except where control and disposal of land comprising such strips has been conveyed to the governing body under conditions approved by the Planning ...

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