On February 28, 2013, Judge O’Connor of the Warren County Law Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, issued an opinion in Meadows at Mansfield, LLC v. Mansfield Township Land Use Board, Docket No. WRN-L-62-12, that an application to convert an age-restricted site plan to a non-age-restricted site plan pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:22A-46.3 et seq. could not be denied on the basis of substantial detriment to the public good, zone plan, or zoning ordinance. Porzio Bromberg & Newman represented the developer, Meadows at Mansfield, in its application and complaint seeking conversion of its age-restriction.
The Board had based its denial primarily on the negative fiscal impact associated with the conversion of the age restriction, resulting in school-aged children living at the site and increased costs to educate these children for the Township. The Court rejected this reasoning, finding “that the proposed non-age restricted development would result in an influx of children, resulting in a rise in educational costs to the township, is not a factor on which the board could rely in determining whether the conversion could be granted without substantial detriment to the public good. The board cannot act in such a way so as to exclude children from a development or a municipality because the cost to educate them is too high.”
This reasoning is consistent with the Appellate Division’s review of the same issue last week in Sharbell Building Company v. Planning Board of the Township of Robbinsville. There, the Appellate Division opined, “The Board's unfortunate focus on the project's impact to the public fisc, rather than to land use concerns, renders its decision palpably unreasonable.” The courts have thus made clear that any fiscal impact resulting from a conversion is not tantamount to substantial detrimental impact on the public good.
The Mansfield court also rejected the Board’s other concerns about substantial detriment to the public good, noting that the converted application would generate the same number of residents (albeit with a greater percentage of children), improved the project’s environmental impact, reduced municipal responsibility for road maintenance, and that access to transportation, shopping, and medical services from the site remained constant regardless of the conversion application.
With respect to substantial impairment of the zoning ordinance, the Mansfield court noted that the Conversion statute provides that the use as approved, and to be converted, is to be deemed permitted. Because the converted non-age-restricted development is a permitted use under the Conversion statute, the Court reasoned that “such use will not substantially impair the intent and purpose of the zoning ordinance.
Finally, the Court concluded that the conversion did not substantially impair the zone plan, reasoning that the municipal zone plan already permitted residential housing within its industrial zone, by virtue of the underlying age-restricted zoning.