Seton Hall University appealed from an order that upheld the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s denial of a use variance to convert an in-home doctor’s office into a building for its military science department. The specified property was adjacent to the campus but was within a residential district designated as a single-family zone.
The Appellate Court affirmed, finding that the “Board’s actions were not arbitrary or unreasonable,” even though the Court found the lower judge’s criticism of the University for not considering alternative locations for the department, or showing substantial evidence that the location of the department would effect recruiting, did overstep the proper role of the Board and the court. The court explained, “Once the Board determined that the proposed use was inherently beneficial, it was not its proper function to question the manner that the University sought to operate its program or its determination as to the benefits of an on-campus location.”
The Court said that even though the rationale from below was irrelevant, the Board nevertheless did balance relevant considerations in rendering its decision, through the application of the relevant four-part Sica balancing test which serves “as a general guide to municipal boards when balancing the positive and negative criteria.” Specifically, explained the Court, the board should: (1) identify the public interest at stake; (2) identify any detrimental effect that issuing the variance would; (3) decide if any reasonable conditions on the use will reduce the detrimental effect; (4) and weigh the positive and negative criteria to determine if there would be a “substantial detriment to the public good.”
The Board found that the use variance sought was an “inherently beneficial use,” however “putting a small office building (no matter how well masked) on one of the largest lots, in a ‘fragile’ buffer residential neighborhood would be a substantial detriment.” The burden of proving that there would be no detriment was on the University and they failed to overcome the concern of the board. Due to the finding by the Board that the granting of a use variance would cause “substantial detriment to the zoning plan and ordinance,” and by supporting its conclusion, the Board’s actions were not “arbitrary or unreasonable,” and thus a valid determination had been made to deny a use variance to the University.
Seton Hall University v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of the Township of South Orange, 2012 WL 967642 (N.J.Super.3/23/2012)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-jersey/appellate-division-unpublished/2012/a5076-10.html
Filed under: Current Caselaw, Variances Tagged: Higher Education