Who Says Babies Don’t Play Bocce? Law Division Rules On Age Restricted Housing Conversion

by: Gregory S. Ricciardi

With the continuing strain on residential development projects, some developers may seek relief in the form of a recent New Jersey law, which allows for the conversion of age-restricted projects to non age-restricted projects.  A recent opinion from the Law Division may serve as a helpful tool to developers seeking to take advantage of the law.

Heritage at Towne Lake, LLC v. Planning Board of Sayreville interprets and applies N.J.S.A. 45:45:22A-46.3 (the “Conversion Statute”), which regulates the conversion of age restricted units to non-age restricted units in development projects.  In this case, the Sayreville Planning Board (the “Board”) denied a developer’s application to convert a one hundred eighty-four (184) unit, age restricted community to a non-age restricted community, containing the same number of units, but configured differently. 

Pursuant to the Conversion Statute, the approving board has broad discretion to require the applicant to prove that the conversion can be granted  without substantial determinant  to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance.  The Conversion Statute establishes a set of criteria that applicants must prove, which include: (1) that the site meets RSIS standards; (2) recreation improvements and other amenities are revised, as needed, to meet the needs of the converted development; (3) water and sewer systems are adequately designed;  and (4) sufficient parking is available to accommodate the converted development. 

In addition to arguing that the applicant failed to meet the burden of proof as to the conditions of the Conversion Statute, the Board claimed that approving the conversion application would create a density violation.  Since the applicant received a density bonus for age-restricted development, if the conversion were approved, the Board argued that the project would require a (d) variance for density pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70d(5).  The court dismissed this argument, citing the plain meaning of the Conversion Statute, which states:

“No application for an amended approval seeking the authority to construct a converted development shall be considered a “use variance” or other “d variance” application pursuant to subsection d.  of section 57 of P.L.  1975, c 291 (C:4055D-70).”

The court ultimately concluded that the applicant had met its burden of proof and that the denial of the conversion application by the board was unreasonable.  The court remanded the matter back to the Board an ordered that the conversion be approved subject to the conversion of the originally proposed bocce courts to a “tot lot” for children.  

The Conversion Statute remains an attractive option for distressed, age-restricted development projects, provided the projects and the application for conversion can meet the statutory requirements, including a 20% set aside for affordable housing.    The publication of this decision helps shed light on the conversion process and eliminate confusion as to its application. 

As Real Estate Market Continues To Struggle, A Ray Of Sunshine Emerges From, Of All Places, Florida

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

The most recent Case-Shiller index suggests that home prices ticked up in May ("U.S. Housing Prices Rise Slightly, But Remain Weak").  While this might sound like good news, experts were hardly celebrating.  Most attributed the rise in the composite index to "seasonal factors" (i.e., demand is typically strongest in the Spring) and pointed to other negative signs – "contract cancellations, tightened lending standards and sales of new homes in June" — as better examples of the overall health of the market. 

Against this grim news comes surpisingly good news from the usually bad news rich housing market of Florida.  In "Affluent Buyers Reviving Market For Miami Homes," the New York Times notes that sales in Miami, particularly on higher end properties, are up more than 16%, with more than two-thirds of those sales being all cash deals.  While this revival is obviously limited to the wealthy, it is at the very least a small ray of hope in an otherwise downtrodden real estate market.

This One’s for the Bees: Farmland Assessment Act Inapplicable to Dual-Use Property Consisting of Cellular Tower and Beekeeping Activities

by:  Matthew J. Schiller

The Farmland Assessment Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Constitution allow for eligible farmland to be assessed at lower standards.  Specifically, under the Farmland Assessment Act, upon application, the value of land (over 5 acres) that is actively devoted for agricultural/horticultural uses for at least 2 successive years immediately preceding the tax year at issue, is to be assessed at a value for agricultural or horticultural uses. Certain minimal revenue generating requirements pertaining to the sale of agricultural/horticultural products produced on the property must also be shown.  The primary goals of the statute and constitutional amendment are to preserve “family farms” by providing “family” farmers with economic relief and to assist with the preservation of open space.   However, as set forth below, even if a property meets all of the standards of the Farmland Assessment Act, if it is also used for commercial purposes, the benefits of the statute may not apply.

 

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Are You Sure Noah Done It This Way? Biblical Ark Meets Modern Day Building Codes

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

Although the much talked about rapture did not come to fruition last week, there is one big sign  – emerging out of the waters in the Netherlands — that the apocalypse may still be near.  As the New York Times recently reported in its story, "A Biblical Blueprint Meets The Fire Code And The Neighbors," Johan Huibers, a successful contractor in the Netherlands, has spent the last few years building an ark identical to the one Noah built.  As it nears completion, the ark is 300-feet long, 450-feet high, and 75-feet wide.  (The Bible used “cubits” as its form of measurement, which is the distance between ones finger tips and elbows, but Huibers translated this to modern measurements.) 

While Huibers has stuck as closely as possible to the original plans — including by using Swedish pine, which he contends is what the Bible refers to when it describes Noah’s ark as being made of “resin wood” — he has had to include modifications like a heavy steel frame to comply with modern safety requirements.  As the Times notes, these modifications are not the only differences between Huibers’s efforts and his biblical predecessor’s efforts:

 

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