New Jersey Appellate Division upholds "Area in Need of Redevelopment Designation"

In the New Jersey Appellate Division case of Suburban Jewelers vs. City of Plainfield, the Appellate Division upheld Plainfield's redevelopment designation of a portion of Plainfield's Central Business District. A number of commercial property owners appealed the City's redevelopment designation contending that the designation adversely affected their properties. The property owners argued that the City failed to make the constitutionally required finding of "blight", the findings were based upon a net opinion, and the City planning board failed to consider the benefits of the present uses of the properties.  In addition they argued that the trial court failed to consider the opinion of another judge in the same vicinage. The court rejected all the arguments advanced by the property owners. 

The Court found:

1. Gallenthin principles must be followed in determining whether an area is blighted.

2. The City's planning consultants did a thorough review of the area investigating the conditions of each property including any deterioration, use, occupancy and vacancy of each property, site characteristics including drainage, operations, parking, and lighting, tax payment history, police incidents and crime rate, and any unsafe conditions and code violations relating to  each property.

3. The City's determination that the study area is in need of redevelopment  comes invested with  a presumption of validity.

4.  While a net opinion is not adequate, the City's report contained detailed factual findings rather than a mere recitation of the statutory criteria and met the "substantial evidence standard" because the report discussed specific conditions of each property and explained in detail why those conditions rose to the level of obsolescence etc. and explained why those conditions were detrimental to the safety, health and welfare  of the community. Those conditions were found to have a detrimental effect on surrounding property.

5. The Court reaffirmed the Gallenthin standard that " while the meaning of blight has evolved and broadened it still has a negative connotation and retains its essential characteristic: deterioration or stagnation that negatively affects surrounding properties."

6.  The Court did not require the planning board to consider the benefits of the current uses of the study area.

Accordingly this case upholds a redevelopment designation when there is a proper study and reinforces that the redevelopment decision is subject to a presumption of validity which will be upheld so long as the decision is supported by substantial credible evidence.  



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