May 31, 2017
appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Passaic County, Docket No. L-2866-14.
Antonio J. Casas argued the cause for appellant (Windels Marx
Lane & Mittendorf, LLP, attorneys; Samuel G. Destito, of
counsel and on the briefs; Mr. Casas and Sandy L. Galacio,
Jr., on the briefs).
Michael H. Glovin argued the cause for respondent County of
Passaic (William J. Pascrell, III, Passaic County Counsel,
attorney; Mr. Glovin, of counsel and on the brief).
J. Brauth argued the cause for respondent City of Clifton
(Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, PA, attorneys; Mr. Brauth,
of counsel and on the brief).
Judges Koblitz, Rothstadt and Sumners.
Rutgers v. Piluso, 60 N.J. 142 (1972), the Supreme
Court addressed the limits of a local government's
authority to regulate development of a state university's
property that was confined to its campus. In this dispute, we
are asked to determine whether those limits apply to a state
university's construction of a roadway that intersects
with a county road. For the reason expressed herein, we hold
that the limits imposed by Rutgers apply equally to
the development proposal in this case, reverse the trial
judge's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint and remand
the matter for a trial.
Montclair State University (MSU) appeals from the Law
Division's March 7, 2016 order dismissing its complaint
for declaratory and injunctive relief that sought an order
permitting it to proceed with the development of a roadway
from its campus to Valley Road in Clifton. Prior to filing
the complaint, MSU spent approximately six years consulting
with defendants County of Passaic and City of Clifton, both
of which interposed various objections and concerns about the
project. Through various meetings between construction
professionals, MSU was able to satisfy most of
defendants' concerns about the roadway.
2014, MSU submitted an application to the county for a permit
to install traffic controls at the proposed intersection of
the roadway and Valley Road. In its cover letter, MSU stated
that it was exempt under Rutgers from seeking any
approvals from Clifton's land use boards. When the county
failed to respond, MSU filed a complaint for declaratory
judgment and injunctive relief, seeking a determination that
the county's refusal to issue the permit was contrary to
law and directing that it be issued so MSU could construct
the proposed roadway.
hearing held on the return date of an order to show cause,
the trial judge addressed the limits of the county's
authority to withhold approval. He stated that the county did
not have jurisdiction over the speed limit on the roadway as
it is on state land. He also noted that while defendants
could be legitimately concerned with a "palpably
unsafe" intersection, they could not block the proposal
simply because it would generate more traffic. Despite those
observations, the judge denied the relief plaintiff sought,
reasoning MSU had not complied with its obligations under
Rutgers only because it needed an updated traffic
study. The judge, however, specifically contemplated that he
would be "review[ing the] up-to-date expert
reports" and making the ultimate determination whether
the project should proceed. On November 6, 2014, he entered
an order requiring the parties to submit updated traffic
studies and requiring "the parties [to] consult, which
shall include, without limitation, appearances before the
Planning Boards of the City of Clifton and the County of
Passaic." The court retained jurisdiction in the event
the parties could not reach a resolution.
accordance with the judge's order, the parties obtained
updated traffic studies that concluded traffic conditions had
not changed from the last completed traffic study in 2004.
MSU's expert concluded that its proposed "design
does not create [a] safety risk." Defendants' expert
concluded that the roadway did not meet certain American
Association of State Highway and Transportation (AASHTO) and
New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) criteria. On
April 1, 2015, the parties and their respective experts met
again to resolve the matter. Defendants made numerous
recommendations to the proposed design, which MSU reviewed
with its experts. Following the meeting, MSU proposed
additional revisions to its plans, which the county found
"acceptable." The county also asked MSU's
engineers to consider redesigning the road for higher speeds,
but MSU rejected this recommendation explaining that it
"would have the unintended consequence of encouraging
higher operating speeds and could result in an unsafe
condition." In response, the county disagreed, its
counsel stating that a thirty-five mile-per-hour design would
support anticipated traffic volume and explaining that
"it is totally unreasonable to expect drivers to adhere
to a 15 or 20 mph speed limit along a newly constructed
roadway." MSU submitted a revised plan that reflected
changes that satisfied some of the county's concerns. The
county, however, refused to issue a permit because it
believed the roadway design continued to fail to meet
applicable AASHTO/NJDOT standards and because Clifton's
approval was required for a proposed traffic signal as it
would impact municipal roadways.
it had reached an impasse with defendants, MSU wrote to the
court and requested the matter be relisted for a decision.
Clifton objected, arguing that MSU had not returned to its
planning board. While awaiting a response from the judge,
MSU's and the county's engineers corresponded about
the roadway's design, the proposed traffic signal and
speed limits. Clifton did not participate in the exchanges
between MSU and the county.
trial judge heard the matter again on February 25, 2016. MSU
argued that it had revised its plans to resolve the
county's and Clifton's concerns regarding safety,
that the only area on which they could not agree was the
design of the roadway that was located entirely on MSU's
property, and MSU had sole jurisdiction over the roadway. It
also argued there was expert testimony that confirmed the
roadway design was safe, and had met all of the requirements
under Rutgers. The county acknowledged that MSU had
accommodated nearly all of ...