Pierro v. Baxendale
Supreme Court of New Jersey, 1955
Facts: The Borough of Palisades Park, New Jersey, adopted a zoning ordinance in 1939. The subject property fell in District A, permitting one and two family houses as well as "boarding and rooming houses," defined as "any dwelling" where "more than 6 persons" (not related to the owner) are lodged and boarded for compensation. In 1954, plaintiff applied for a building permit for a 27-unit motel, which was denied. 6 days later, the Borough adopted a supplemental ordinance prohibiting "motels, motor courts, motor lodges, motor hotels, tourist camps, tourist courts, and structures of a similar character intended for a similar use" from anywhere in the Borough. The plaintiff sued for issuance of their permit and an injunction against the supplemental ordinance. Both parties stipulated to the characteristics of the Borough: 80% of the land is residential, including the subject neighborhood, with 9% for businesses, 3% light industry, and 8% heavy industry (separated by railroad tracks).

Procedure: Trial judge ruled in favor of plaintiff, finding no "fair and reasonable discrimination between a motel as a rooming house and some other type of rooming house," and overturning the supplemental ordinance and ordering issuance of building permit.

Issue: Is there a public purpose in distinguishing motels from boarding and rooming houses, and is it reasonable means to bar them from the Borough or the residential districts of the Borough, given that the latter uses are permitted in both?

Holding: Trial decision reversed, ordinance upheld.

Rationale: Precedents show fine differentiation is possible, e.g. higher education from elementary education or new car dealerships vs. used car dealerships. Inns and Hotels have been differentiated from Boarding, Lodging, and Rooming Houses in legal articles, and the decision notes differences in structural design & appearance, services rendered, and "extent of control or supervision available to the operators." Precedents also show that municipality-wide restrictions are "reasonable restrictions designed to preserve the character of a community and maintain its property values," and "are within the proper objectives of zoning" because the "general welfare" is broad and includes "aesthetic as well as monetary" values. The decision acknowledges that this broad power can be used indiscriminately, and that many communities "are so constituted and located that they could not properly advance any sound objections to motels." However, given the lack of facts other than the stipulation to the largely residential characteristics of the Borough, the decision finds no evidence that the ordinance is unreasonable.

Notes: There was a dissenting opinion. The justice argues that the supplemental ordinance itself bases objections to motels upon their "great temptation to the conduct of immoral actions," meaning a motel could become a nuisance if run poorly. The justice believes a properly run motel would not be distinguished from "bungalow courts and hotels or multiple dwellings" in terms of traditional zoning controls "height, area, and use of buildings, use of land, and density of population." The justice therefore believes this is a misapplication of common-law nuisance into a zoning code, which "involve different legal principles." ("It is fundamental that zoning is not based on the doctrine of common-law nuisance.") The justice also believes that motels are not "beyond effective regulation" and so the supplemental ordinance is not a reasonable means of exercise of the police power, since less restrictive rules are available.