Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 6, 2015

NJ Supreme Court Finds Substantial Evidence Supported City’s Blight Determinations

Plaintiff 62–64 Main Street, LLC owned Block 205, Lots 4, 5, 6, and 7, and Plaintiff 59–61 Moore Street L.L.C. owned Block 205, Lot 8 (collectively “Plaintiffs”) and they intended to build a bank on the five lots, but could not secure site-plan approval from the City’s Planning Board or the necessary variances from the City’s Board of Adjustment to go forward with their proposals. In 2006, the Hackensack City Council authorized the City’s Planning Board to undertake a preliminary investigation to determine whether a two-block area in Hackensack’s central business district, a mix of commercial and residential uses, should be designated as an area in need of redevelopment. The principal witness for the Planning Board was Janice Talley, a licensed professional planner with H2M Group, the firm retained by the Board to prepare a redevelopment study of the area under investigation. According to Talley’s redevelopment report, the buildings on Lots 4–7 were vacant, dilapidated, and “boarded up due to their unsafe condition.” In April 2011, the Mayor and Council adopted the recommendations of the Planning Board designating the plaintiffs’ two properties and three others, eleven lots in all, as an area in need of redevelopment. Property owners filed action in lieu of prerogative writs, challenging city’s classification of their lots as blighted within meaning of the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. The Superior Court affirmed, the Property owners appealed, and the Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed.

At issue was whether the designation of plaintiffs’ properties as part of an area in need of redevelopment, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:12A–5(a), (b), and (d), conformed to the Blighted Areas Clause of the New Jersey Constitution. Although the New Jersey Constitution did not define “blighted areas”, the court found such a definition in the Redevelopment Companies Law in 1944, which defined “blighted areas” as those “areas of municipalities…where there exist substandard conditions and unsanitary housing conditions owing to obsolescence, deterioration and dilapidation of buildings, or excessive land coverage, lack of planning, of public facilities, of sufficient light, air and space, and improper design and arrangement of living quarters.” The court found that the definitions of “blighted area” contained in the resultant 1951 Blighted Areas Act were almost identical to those contained in the present Redevelopment Law. The court discussed that the redevelopment of decaying neighborhoods was the objective of the drafters of the Blighted Areas Clause, and the statute was entitled to a “strong presumption of constitutionality that … can be rebutted only upon a showing that the statute’s ‘repugnancy to the Constitution is clear beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Here, at the redevelopment proceedings the Planning Board reviewed reports, inspected photographs, and received testimony at eight days of hearings. It credited the report and testimony of a professional planner, Janice Talley, who examined the properties at issue. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division, and affirmed the Law Division’s holding that substantial evidence in the record supported the Hackensack Planning Board’s and the Mayor and Council’s designations of plaintiffs’ properties as part of an area in need of redevelopment.
62-64 Main Street, LLC v Mayor and Council of the City of Hackensack, 2015 WL 1280829 (NJ 3/23/2015)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.njlawjournal.com/id=1202721657487/6264-Main-Street-LLC-and-5961-Moore-Street-LLC-v-Mayor-and-Council-of-the-City-of-Hackensack?slreturn=20150403101022


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