Harrison Township Amendment to Redevelopment Plan Affirmed on Appeal

by: Joseph Grather
26 Nov 2013

In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Appellate Division affirmed dismissal of a property owner’s challenge to a municipal ordinance adopting an amended redevelopment plan. Mullica Hills Supermarkets, LLC v. Harrison.

The background followed the familiar redevelopment path.  An area was designated “in need of redevelopment” in 2008, and a redevelopment plan was adopted contemporaneous thereto.  In 2011, the municipality decided to amend the redevelopment plan “after the Township determined that more specific plans were necessary in order to effectuate the redevelopment of certain blocks and lots within the redevelopment area.”  The property owner challenged the adoption of the amended plan on the grounds that “the Township failed to include a statutorily mandated statement of its purpose in the notice of introduction.”  In response, the Township referred the matter to the planning board and provided notice of the purpose of the plan.

The planning board held a hearing, and a planner provided unsworn testimony as to the purpose and details of the amended plan.  Afterwards, the property owner pressed its challenge, arguing; “(1) Township planner was not sworn in at the public hearing; (2) the Township planner did not sign, seal or date the amended redevelopment plan incorporated in the body of the ordinance; (3) the Township’s attempt to ratify Ordinance 46-2011 was improper because that ordinance was “void” and a legal nullity and therefore could not be “ratified”; and (4) the governing body that adopted Ordinance 18-2012 demonstrated a lack of understanding as to its content and purpose.”

The trial court rejected these arguments in turn:  “(1) public hearings on the adoption of a redevelopment plan are not the type of hearing requiring sworn testimony pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10; (2) Ordinance 18-2012 was not a document issued by a planner and therefore need not be signed by a planner; (3) the Township was well aware of the intent and purpose of Ordinance 18-2012 because its intent and purpose was contained in the body of the ordinance; and (4) while Ordinance 46-2011 was a nullity and not capable of ratification, the ratification provisions in Ordinance 18-2012 were separate and distinct from the provisions re-adopting the amended redevelopment plan and the ratification provisions could therefore be severed to save the remainder of Ordinance 18-2012.”

The Appellate Division affirmed on the opinion below.

It does not appear that the property owner sought to challenge the underlying blight designation and the concomitant authorization of the eminent domain power, or make any substantive arguments attacking the redevelopment plan that might have given the court pause in affirming the municipal action.