Rumson Estates, Inc. v. Mayor & Council of the Borough of Fair Haven, Supreme Court of New Jersey (2003)

Facts: The plaintiff, Rumson estates, Inc owns a parcel of approximately 27,000 square feet in the municipality of Fair Haven. In 1999, Fair Haven changed the zoning of the William Street block from R-7.5 to R-5 (requiring fifty feet of frontage and a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet). The zoning change set a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of .40 and capped the floor area at 2,200 square feet for all single-family dwellings in the district. Rumson Estates proposed to subdivide the parcel into three lots, each 9066.4 square feet. Under the new zoning, applying the FAR, the plaintiff would have been able to build a 3,600 square foot house on each lot, but the cap limited the plaintiff to 2,200 square feet.

Procedure: The appellate court held that the plaintiffs did not overcome the presumption of validity and upheld the zoning change.

Issues: 1. Is it valid for a municipality to enact a zoning ordinance that alters the definitions in the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to 136 and apply a method other than a pure mathematical floor area ration to regulate the intensity of land use?

2. Is a square foot building cap that only limits the size of buildings on larger lots in a zoning district to a size smaller than that allowed by the FAR for the district valid, or is it a violation of the uniformity principle of NJSA 40:55D-62a and the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection?

Holding: The Supreme Court held that building cap in the Fair Haven zoning change is valid under the N.J.S.A because it does not alter any mandatory definitions in the MLUL. The Court also upheld the Appellate Court’s opinion that the notion of uniformity does not prohibit classifications within a district so long as they are reasonable and all similarly situated property within the district receives the same treatment.

Rational: 1. The N.J.S.A. 40:55D-65b provides authority for municipalities to use any number of methods to control the intensity of residential use. The 2,200 square foot cap for all single-family homes falls under the category of “other ratios and regulatory techniques” allowed by the N.J.S.A.

2. Uniformity is not absolute and rational regulations based on different conditions within a zone are permissible so long as they are reasonable, not arbitrary nor unduly discriminatory. Fair Haven gave two justifications for the size cap – to maintain proportionality of new construction with other houses in the zone, and to diversify the building stock with smaller and more affordable homes. The plaintiff did not demonstrate that this action was unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious, thus the court must presume it is valid.