Redevelopment Plan Approving Grocery Store Use Upheld on Appeal
Last Friday, a two-judge panel of the Appellate Divison issued a Per Curiam opinion in Meredith v. Mayor and Council Borough of Somerdale (A-1933-20) and “affirm[ed] substantially for the cogent reasons expressed by Judge Silverman Katz in her thorough written decisions.” Slip op. at 16. Full text of the opinion is available here. This case caught our attention because it was issued on a sleepy Friday afternoon in June; it involved a challenge to a Redevelopment Plan adopted pursuant to the Local Redevelopment & Housing Law (N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1, et seq.); and mostly because it did not involve a challenge to the authorization of the use of eminent domain for local redevelopment. The appellant had challenged municipal approvals issued pursuant to a Redevelopment Plan adopted pursuant to the LRHL to construct a 30,000 s.f. grocery store and ancillary site improvements in a previously designated redevelopment area.
The LRHL mandates that “no redevelopment project shall be undertaken or carried out except in accordance with a redevelopment plan adopted by ordinance….” N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-7a. Once adopted:
“The redevelopment plan shall include an outline for the planning, development, redevelopment, or rehabilitation of the project area sufficient to indicate:
(1) Its relationship to definite local objectives as to appropriate land uses, density of population, and improved traffic and public transportation, public utilities, recreational and community facilities and other public improvements.
(2) Proposed land uses and building requirements in the project area.
The redevelopment plan shall describe its relationship to pertinent municipal development regulations as defined in the “Municipal Land Use Law,” P.L.1975, c.291 (C.40:55D-1 et seq.). The redevelopment plan shall supersede applicable provisions of the development regulations of the municipality or constitute an overlay zoning district within the redevelopment area.”
In this case, the Appellate Division, “favor[ed] Judge Silverman Katz’s ruling that the ordinance “enables effective redevelopment of a blighted and underutilized block in [Somerdale],” and “only provides for minor departures from the 2009 redevelopment plan, . . . and . . . is consistent with the provisions of the municipal [M]aster [P]lan.” Therefore, there was nothing arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable concerning the adoption of the ordinance.” Slip op. at 18.
Lastly, the Appellate Division found no merit in the spot zoning or variance authority claim. The latter was moot because there were no variances granted and the former was denied because it was well established that a grocery store use has been a local objective for years before the redevelopment plan and approvals were issued.
In sum, once an area has been lawfully determined an “area in need of redevelopment” adoption of a redevelopment plan may spur the redevelopment of a blighted area. The Legislature has granted local governing bodies substantial discretionary powers under the LRHL to achieve that result and reviewing courts will largely defer to their discretionary powers when challenged on appeal.