NJ Court Clarifies Notice Requirements Under Municipal Land Use Law

Donald ScarinciThe Appellate Division recently considered whether an ordinance that authorizes “health and wellness centers” and “fitness and health clubs” in two industrial zones changes the “classification” of those zones, thereby requiring compliance with the notice requirements of New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law.

N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62.1 provides that a municipality must give notice of an ordinance that proposes “a change to the classification or boundary changes” of a zoning district. Under the statute, the notice must state “the date, time and place of the hearing, the nature of the matter to be considered and an identification of the affected zoning districts and proposed boundary changes, if any, by street names, common names or other identifiable landmarks, and by reference to lot and block numbers as shown on the current tax duplicate in the municipal tax assessor’s office.”

In Mahwah Realty Associates Inc. v. Township of Mahwah, the dispute centered on the statutory language that begins with “if any.” As noted by the panel, “The parties’ dispute presents a problem commonly encountered when a statute — in a single sentence — first lists multiple items or imposes multiple obligations and then includes words that modify or limit some or all of those items or obligations.”

Mahwah Township argued that it gave proper notice to property owners, interpreting the statute to require only identification of the zoning districts affected by the classification change. The panel agreed with the municipality’s interpretation, finding that “the lynchpin for that conclusion is the two-word phrase ‘if any,’ which appears in the statute immediately after ‘proposed boundary changes.’ That phrase – ‘if any’ — can only logically relate to ‘proposed boundary charges.’”

Based on this reading of the statute, the court concluded that because the ordinance proposed a change in classification, the municipality was only required to identify the zoning districts affected by the classification change. The additional requirement for identification of the specific impacted properties only applies when a change in boundaries is proposed.

For more information about this case or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Public Law Group.

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