The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently upheld the dismissal of a property owner’s challenge to a municipal ordinance adopting an amended redevelopment plan. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that certain procedural errors that occurred during the approval process were technical in nature and did not result in prejudice to the plaintiff.
The Facts of the Case
Mullica Hills Supermarkets, LLC v. Harrison involved several challenges to a redevelopment plan contemplated by the Township of Harrison. In 2011, the Township introduced Ordinance 46-2011 for the purpose of adopting an amended redevelopment plan. The plaintiff challenged the adoption of the amended plan on the grounds that “the Township failed to include a statutorily mandated statement of its purpose in the notice of introduction.”
To cure the defect, the Township introduced a new ordinance, having corrected the notice issue, and referred the matter to the planning board. At a subsequent hearing of the planning board, a planner provided unsworn testimony, which included a general overview of the proposed plan and his opinion that it was consistent with the Township’s Master Plan. Subsequently, the Township adopted the new ordinance, and the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint to further challenge the ordinance. The amended complaint alleged that: “(1) Township planner was not sworn in at the public hearing; (2) the Township planner did not sign, seal or date the amended redevelopment plan incorporated in the body of the ordinance; (3) the Township’s attempt to ratify Ordinance 46-2011 was improper because that ordinance was ‘void’ and a legal nullity and therefore could not be ‘ratified’; and (4) the governing body that adopted Ordinance 18-2012 demonstrated a lack of understanding as to its content and purpose.” After the trial court dismissed its complaint, the plaintiff appealed.
The Court’s Decision
The Appellate Division rejected all of the arguments raised by the plaintiff. It further held that the errors claimed by plaintiff, even if proven, were technical in nature and did not result in any prejudice to plaintiff.
As explained in its opinion:
”(1) public hearings on the adoption of a redevelopment plan are not the type of hearing requiring sworn testimony pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10; (2) Ordinance 18-2012 was not a document issued by a planner and therefore need not be signed by a planner; (3) the Township was well aware of the intent and purpose of Ordinance 18-2012 because its intent and purpose was contained in the body of the ordinance; and (4) while Ordinance 46-2011 was a nullity and not capable of ratification, the ratification provisions in Ordinance 18-2012 were separate and distinct from the provisions re-adopting the amended redevelopment plan and the ratification provisions could therefore be severed to save the remainder of Ordinance 18-2012.”
The Appellate Division agreed with the reasoning of the trial court and affirmed the dismissal without further discussion.
For more information about this case or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.