Appellate Court Upholds Sayreville Zoning
On April 14, 2003, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, in a unanimous opinion, affirmed the trial court's decision upholding the validity of the Borough of Sayreville's 1999 amendments to its Municipal Zoning Code, and dismissing plaintiff Lorraine Mocco's Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writ seeking to invalidate the amended zoning ordinances.
In March of 1999, in accordance with the land use recommendations set forth in its revised Master Plan, the Borough amended its Municipal Zoning Code to create a new zoning designation, the Planned Development or PD Zone. The PD Zone concept was developed to, among other things, control residential density, promote a mixed use of housing types and preserve existing open space in the municipality. In April of 1999, the Borough rezoned eight (8) of the largest undeveloped properties in the Borough, including Mocco's 157-acre property, to conform with the PD Zoning designation. The rezoning undertaken by the Borough eliminated the multifamily housing development option in the PD Zone, reduced allowable residential density from 4.0 to 2.1 units per acre and increased open space set asides from 25% to 40% of the development zone.
On March 4, 2002, following a five-day trial, the Hon. Richard F. Plechner, J.S.C. rejected Mocco's challenge to the rezoning of her property and upheld the validity of the amended zoning ordinances. In unanimously affirming the trial court's decision, the Appellate Division completely validated the Borough's actions in amending the Municipal Zoning Code and rezoning Mocco's property. In so holding, the Appellate Division specifically acknowledged that the amended zoning ordinances were consistent with the Borough's comprehensive Master Plan and furthered the Borough's legitimate objectives of reducing the multifamily housing inventory in the municipality and controlling population density. Although acknowledging that the rezoning of her property may render the development of Mocco's property less profitable, the Court concluded that the "welfare of the community for all time cannot be subordinated to the profit motive of an individual landowner."
Mayor Kennedy O'Brien heralded the Court's decision as a "significant victory" for the Borough of Sayreville, and for "municipalities throughout the State of New Jersey." Mayor O'Brien further added, "In amending the Zoning Code, we made a conscious effort to address the sweeping demographic changes in the Borough over the last ten years and specifically sought to preserve the historic residential character of the community. Our victory today affirms our unwavering commitment to controlling unbridled development throughout the community and preserving open space for future generations of Borough residents."
Gerald A. Liloia, the Senior Partner with the Morristown law firm of Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti LLP and lead counsel for the Borough, echoed the sentiments of the Court. "Zoning ordinances are enacted for the benefit of the entire community, and the economic interests of an individual land owner are not the appropriate criteria for assessing the validity of zoning. Prior to amending the Zoning Code, the Borough performed a detailed analysis of the changes in population and housing types in the municipality over the last decade. The Borough's actions in amending the Zoning Code and rezoning the plaintiff's property were reasonable, procedurally correct and based upon sound zoning and land use principles."