Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 17, 2018

NJ Supreme Court Remands Claim for Conflict of Interest in Zoning Amendment Vote by Two Municipal Officials Based on Leadership Positions Held in Applicant Church

This post was authored by Touro Law student Aisha Scholes ‘20

Plaintiff challenged the validity of an ordinance allowing the construction of an assisted living facility next to a church due to the alleged conflicts of interest of two members of the Township council.  Specifically, Plaintiff, a property owner, argued that one member should have been disqualified for a direct personal interest in the outcome based on his comment that he might admit his mother to the proposed assisted living facility one day.  Additionally, Plaintiff argued that this same member and another member should have been disqualified on another ground that they were also members of the church and thus had indirect personal interests in the outcome.

As for the one member’s comment that he might seek to admit his mother in the proposed assisted living facility, the court held that this comment alone did not create a conflict of interest that would disqualify him from voting on the ordinance because there was no evidence that the mother depended on the construction of the facility for her care and the comment alone did not distinguish the member from any other person in the community who may or may not send their family members to the facility one day.  The court remanded this issue so that the trial court could develop the record as to whether the comment revealed an actual personal interest.

As for the other ground, the court held that when an organization “owns property within 200 feet of a site that is the subject of a zoning application, public officials who currently serve in substantive leadership positions in the organization, or who will imminently assume such positions, are disqualified from voting on the application.”  The court clarified that the church’s interest in this ordinance is not automatically imputed to all its members but only to those members who occupied a position of substantive leadership.  The court remanded on this issue so that the trial court could determine whether the two members held substantive leadership positions in the church.

Grabowsky v. Twp. of Montclair, 115 A.3d 815, 817 (2015)

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