NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court ." Although it is posted on the
internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited . R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-3750-16T4
PLANNING BOARD and RD
Argued January 14, 2019 – Decided February 5, 2019
Before Judges Sabatino and Mitterhoff.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-2094-15.
R.S. Gasiorowski argued the cause for appellant
(Gasiorowski & Holobinko, and Sills Cummis & Gross,
PC, attorneys; R.S. Gasiorowski, on the briefs).
Kelsey A. McGuckin-Anthony argued the cause for
respondent Lakewood Township Planning Board
(Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Koutsouris &
Connors, attorneys; Jerry J. Dasti, of counsel; Martin J.
Buckley, on the brief).
Robert C. Shea argued the cause for respondent RD
Lakewood, LLC (R.C. Shea & Associates, attorneys;
Robert C. Shea, of counsel; Dina M. Vicari, on the
This matter arises from the development of a commercial park in
Lakewood, New Jersey. Respondent RD Lakewood, LLC ("RD Lakewood")
purchased property within the project site from the initial developer,
Cedarbridge Development Urban Renewal Corporation ("Cedarbridge").
Cedarbridge developed the property for the Township of Lakewood. After the
project site was subdivided with municipal approval, three development
companies, including RD Lakewood, purchased some of the subdivided lots.
The companies sought land-use approvals for various structures and uses within
the project, anticipating their structures would share a water retention basin.
RD Lakewood applied to the Township Planning Board for site plan
approval and certain minor variances for its portion of the project. RD
Lakewood presented factual and expert testimony at the Board hearing in
support of its application. One objector participated in the hearing before the
Board: appellant Lakewood Realty Associates ("LRA"). Represented by
Cedarbridge Development Urban Renewal Corporation was succeeded by
Cedarbridge Development, LLC.
counsel, LRA presented arguments to the Board and cross-examined the
applicant's witnesses. LRA also presented its own competing expert, who
testified why, in his opinion, the Board should deny the application.
The Board approved the application in a resolution in June 2015. LRA
then filed an action in lieu of prerogative writs in the Law Division, seeking to
set aside the approval on various grounds, including alleged flaws in the public
notice that had been issued before the Board hearing. The trial court rejected
those contentions. This appeal by LRA ensued. In the meantime, RD Lakewood
has refrained from starting construction, due to the pendency of the litigation
Although we disagree with most of LRA's claims of error, we reverse in
part the trial court's decision upholding the Board's approval. As amplified in
this opinion, we do so for two important reasons.
First, we reverse the court's finding that the public notice issued for the
Board hearing was adequate. We instead conclude the notice was materially
deficient under controlling case law, including Perlmart of Lacey, Inc. v. Lacey
Township Planning Board, 295 N.J. Super. 234 (App. Div. 1996), and Pond Run
Watershed Ass'n v. Township of Hamilton Zoning Board of Adjustment, 397 N.J. Super. 335 (App. Div. 2008). Most significantly, the notice did not disclose
to the public and neighboring property owners that the proposed uses, which
were tersely described as a "hotel" and a "bank," would include such components
within the hotel as a restaurant with a liquor license and banquet facilities.
Second, we must reverse the trial court's decision on procedural grounds,
because RD Lakewood impermissibly provided to the court an expert
submission and other materials that had not been part of the record presented to
the Board before it approved the application. In all other respects, we reject
We summarize the facts and procedural history necessary for context.
This case involves a proposed development within the Cedarbridge Corporate
Campus ("the Campus"), which is a corporate park located in the DA-1
Cedarbridge Redevelopment Area in Lakewood. The Campus resulted from a
redevelopment project spearheaded by Cedarbridge. The Township passed a
resolution permitting the Mayor to execute an option agreement with
Cedarbridge. On June 1, 2000, the Township and Cedarbridge executed the
2 In 2010, residents of the Township challenged the Township's actions of
selecting and contracting with Cedarbridge. See Shain v. Twp. of Lakewood,
No. A-0824-13 (App. Div. Jan. 18, 2017). In Shain, this court affirmed in an
In 2002, Cedarbridge filed an application for general development
approval and preliminary major subdivision approval for the Campus. The
Department of Environmental Protection issued a Coastal Area Facilities Renew
Act ("CAFRA") permit in August 2002, granting Cedarbridge permission under
CAFRA to construct an office complex.
The project site at contention in this litigation is a portion of this Campus,
namely Block 961.01, Lots 2.02 and 2.03. These lots resulted from two
subdivisions of Block 961.01. In August 2005, the Board granted a resolution
authorizing a final major subdivision for Lots 1.02 and 2 in Block 961.01. The
resolution subdivided Lots 1.02 and 2 into four new lots: Lot 2.01, 2.02, 2.03,
and 2.04. Pursuant to the Board's approval of a subsequent resolution in 2012,
Lots 1.02 and 2.01 were further subdivided into two new lots: Lot 2.05 and 2.06.
Development Applications for the Related Lots
In 2014, defendant RD Lakewood filed a development application with
the Board for the proposed construction of a bank and a hotel on Lot 2.02 with
unpublished opinion the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for involuntary
dismissal of the case under Rule 4:37-2(b), thus upholding the validity of the
option agreement between the Township and Cedarbridge.
a stormwater basin on Lot 2.03.3 RD Lakewood accordingly entered into an
agreement with Cedarbridge for the purchase of Lot 2.02 in July 2014.
The Township engineer, Terrence Vogt, reviewed RD Lakewood's
submission in support of its development application and issued an engineering
review letter in February 2015. The review letter confirmed the storm
management for the project – a basin on Lot 2.03 – would be built under another
company's Board-approved application. The review letter further noted a
variance was requested for the rear-parking setback, proposing a setback for Lot
2.02 of five feet where twenty is required.
Furthermore, Vogt recommended RD Lakewood provide the following to
the Board: a traffic analysis, a vehicular circulation plan, testimony to justify
reducing the number of off-street parking spaces, an architectural rendering for
the bank, testimony regarding the hotel building height, testimony regarding
HVAC equipment location and proposed screening for both buildings, testimony
regarding proposed loading activities at the facilities, testimony regarding if
trash and recycling collection will be provided by the Township Department of
This stormwater management basin was initially proposed for Lot 2.02, but
later moved to Lot 2.03.
Public Works or by private contractor, and testimony regarding ownership and
maintenance of the proposed wet well, pump station, and generator.
The Public Notice
Before the public hearings on RD Lakewood's application, the developer
prepared a public notice, which was both published and duly mailed to all
property owners within 200 feet of the site. The notice indicated that RD
Lakewood had "applied to the Lakewood Township Planning Board for amended
preliminary and final major site plan of Lots 2.02 & 2.03 in Block 961.01 on
[sic] located on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and Pine Street, in the
DA-1 zoning district to construct a hotel as well as a bank[.]" (Emphasis added).
The notice listed the parking setback and parking space variances requested,
indicated the hearing had been scheduled for March 3, 2015 at the Lakewood
Township Municipal Building at 6:00 p.m., and directed the reader to where and
when maps and supporting documents could be accessed.
The Public Hearings
After being adjourned twice, the hearing on RD Lakewood's application
went forward before the Board on April 14. RD Lakewood applied for a
submission waiver and requested variances for a rear-parking setback and a
small variance for the number of parking spaces. Counsel representing LRA, an
interested party and objector, was present at the hearing. 4 LRA's counsel asked
whether, in compliance with the engineer's report, a traffic study had been
submitted, and the Board's attorney acknowledged that a traffic study had not
Brian Flannery, a licensed engineer and professional planner, appeared
before the Board with RD Lakewood's counsel, Adam Pfeffer, to answer
technical questions. Another expert, Scott Kennel, conducted a traffic analysis
for the site and testified at the hearing about this analysis.
Flannery's testimony addressed a number of issues, including testimony
requested in Vogt's review letter. Among other things, Flannery identified some
differences between the approved CAFRA plan and the application, explaining
those differences were to accommodate the engineering features, including
shifting the basin to Lot 2.03. Flannery also testified about the parking variance,
consenting to the Board's request to add two parking spots in order to eliminate
the need for the variance.
LRA's counsel questioned Flannery about an easement on Lot 2.03 and
about the restaurant and banquet facilities in the proposed hotel. LRA's counsel
At the hearing, counsel for LRA at one point described his client as "Hotels
Unlimited," which we gather might be a predecessor or affiliate of LRA.
asked Flannery about whether or not the parking calculation took into account
the people coming to the restaurant and banquet facilities. Flannery answered
that the parking calculations used are typical for hotels of this type and he felt
the number of parking spaces was more than sufficient and complied with the
Before the Board voted on the application, LRA's counsel called his own
witness, Gordon Gemma, a licensed professional planner. Gemma testified to
numerous plan deficiencies, such as the plan's interference with an access road
on Lot 2.03 and that the plan is detrimental to the purpose of a 2013 smart growth
plan. In addition, Gemma testified that, while the C1 standard for granting a
variance, undue hardship, see N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(c)(1), did not apply, neither
did the C2 standard, which balances the benefits and burdens of variance relief,
N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(c)(2); Gemma posited there were no real benefits to the
variances and there were detriments. When asked to elaborate, Gemma claimed
having a parking lot within five feet of the adjacent property would increase the
amount of fumes, headlights, and wind-blown trash in the area, as well as be a
detriment to the purposes of the redevelopment plan set forth in the 2013 smart
growth study. Gemma concluded his expert testimony by asserting that RD
Lakewood could develop the property in modified form without seeking the
LRA's counsel raised a number of issues at the hearing, such as the lack
of a copy of the traffic study and that an agreement about the construction and
maintenance of the basin was not submitted to the Board prior to the hearing.
Other proofs were presented to the Board by RD Lakewood that are not
significant to this appeal.
The Board's Approval
After hearing closing arguments, the Board voted to approve the
application. The application was granted with conditions, which included: the
basin shall be landscaped along Pine Street, the easement on Lot 2.03 will be
vacated, RD Lakewood will provide the Board's engineer and attorney with an
agreement concerning proposed construction and maintenance, as well as a
proposed maintenance plan for the basin for their review and comment, two
additional parking spaces will be added to eliminate the need for a parking
variance, and the traffic in the rear of the hotel will be one way.
The Board approved the application by a unanimous vote. On June 23,
2015, the Board adopted a resolution memorializing its corresponding findings
of facts and conclusions.
The Action in Lieu of Prerogative Writs
In July 2015, LRA filed in the Law Division a timely complaint in lieu of
prerogative writs seeking the reversal of the resolution approving RD
Lakewood's application. RD Lakewood and the Board filed answers opposing
The parties appeared before the trial court on September 7, 2016. LRA's
counsel began the proceeding by noting "numerous exhibits which were made a
part of appendices" and that he "thought that many of the exhibits that were
attached to [respondents'] briefs as exhibits were not before the Planning Board,
were not part of the record and should not be considered."
Among other things, LRA's counsel argued that, although some type of
agreement existed as to the basin's construction and maintenance, that
documentation had not been submitted at the Board hearings and no stormwater
management plan was submitted before the hearing. Counsel argued this
deprived the public of the right to consider, discuss, and raise objections to the
LRA further argued the public notice was deficient because it identified
RD Lakewood's application as being for an "amended site plan." Counsel
argued the application constituted a "new" application, noting the proposed bank
and hotel had never previously been approved.
Moreover, LRA argued the notice was deficient because the public was
never fairly apprised of what uses would be conducted on the property. All the
notice says in this regard is that the property is going to be the site for a "hotel"
and "bank." The notice did not mention the other uses that were anticipated with
the hotel, namely, a restaurant, bar, and banquet facilities. RDI's counsel argued
that, even though these accessory uses sometimes do accompany a hotel, a hotel
does not necessarily include a restaurant or bar under the Township's ordinances.
Furthermore, LRA's counsel maintained the Board's approval should be
reversed because the notice failed to explain that an easement was being vacated.
Lastly, LRA's counsel noted numerous conditions still had to be satisfied after
the application was approved.
The Trial Court's Decision
On April 3, 2017, the trial court upheld the Board's approval and dismissed
plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. In its accompanying detailed written
statement of reasons, the court determined, among other things:
RD Lakewood had included architectural plans
that disclosed the proposed hotel as a Courtyard [by]
Marriott, which depicted meeting rooms, food prep
area, lounge, bar are[a] and dining area on page A-1 of
the plans. These are common amenities in a hotel of
this size associated with a national brand.
The court determined the "conditions [on the Board's approval of the
application] were reasonable, consistent with the recommendations of it[s]
professional staff, and do not form a basis for vacation or reversal of the
resolution of approval." The court ruled that the Board had appropriately
accepted the applicant's experts' testimony as being more credible than the
opinion of the expert offered by the objector. The court added that nothing in
the record indicated the Board's discretion in weighing the positive and negative
criteria of the plan was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. According to the
trial court, the Board was properly afforded the opportunity to consider the
issues of traffic circulation and stormwater management and acted within its
discretion in deferring this consideration to its professionals.
This appeal by LRA followed.
The materials indicate the proposed hotel will be a Courtyard [by] Marriott.
Although LRA raises a host of other points on appeal, a pivotal issue
before us is the legal sufficiency of the public notice that RD Lakewood posted
in the newspaper and served on nearby property owners to alert interested parties
to its pending application before the Board. Because this is a legal and
jurisdictional issue, we review it de novo. "A board's decision regarding a
question of law, such as whether it has jurisdiction over a matter, is subject to
de novo review by the courts and thus is afforded no deference." Pond Run,
397 N.J. Super. at 350 (citing TWC Realty P'ship v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment
of Twp. of Edison, 315 N.J. Super. 205, 211 (Law Div. 1998), aff'd, 321 N.J.
Super. 216 (App. Div. 1999)).
The Municipal Land Use Law ("MLUL"), N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -163,
requires an applicant to give public notice of an application for development at
least ten days prior to the public hearing on that application. N.J.S.A. 40:55D- -
12. The MLUL requires the notice include "the date, time, and place of the
hearing"; "the nature of the matters to be considered"; "an identification of the
property proposed for development by street address, if any, or by reference to
lot and block numbers"; and "the location and times at which any maps or
documents for which approval is sought are available[.]" N.J.S.A. 40:55D-11.
"Failure to provide proper notice deprives a municipal planning board of
jurisdiction and renders null any subsequent action." Shakoor Supermarkets,
Inc. v. Old Bridge Twp. Planning Bd., 420 N.J. Super. 193, 201 (App. Div.
2011). "Proper notice requires, among other things, that public notices of
applications before a zoning board state 'the nature of the matters to be
considered.'" Ibid. (quoting N.J.S.A. 40:55D-11).
The full text of the public notice issued by RD Lakewood read as follows:
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that RD
LAKEWOOD, LLC contract purchaser, has applied to
the Lakewood Township Planning Board for amended
preliminary and final major site plan Lots 2.02 & 2.03
in Block 961.01 on [sic] located on the corner of New
Hampshire Avenue and Pine Street, in the DA-1 zoning
district to construct a hotel as well as a bank which are
both permitted uses within said zone. Lots [sic] 2.02 is
seeking a rear parking set back variance where 20 feet
is required and 5 feet is proposed. Applicant is seeking
a variance for parking where 153 spaces are required
for the hotel site and 11 spaces are required for the bank
site for a total of 164 spaces and a total of 162 spaces
are being provided.
Said application shall also include a request for
any and all other variances and/or waivers that may be
required by submission and discussion of the plan.
The aforesaid has been scheduled for a public
hearing before the Lakewood Township Planning
Board on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at the Lakewood
Township Municipal Building, 231 Third Street,
Lakewood, New Jersey, at 6:00 p.m. or as soon
thereafter as possible.
The application maps and supporting documents
are on file in the Lakewood Township Planning Board
office in the Municipal Building, 231 Third Street,
Lakewood, New Jersey, and are available for public
inspection ten days prior to the date of the hearing
during normal business hours.
In Perlmart, 295 N.J. Super. 234, this court explained the importance of
the jurisdictional requirement that a developer's public notice adequately inform
the community of the nature of the proposed use for which the developer is
seeking a variance and other land use approvals. A properly crafted notice
serves to "ensure that members of the general public who may be affected by
the nature and character of the proposed development are fairly appraised
thereof." Id. at 237. This is "so that they may make an informed determination
as to whether they should participate in the hearing or, at the least, look more
closely at the plans and other documents on file." Id. at 237-38. The notice
should provide "a common sense description of the nature of the application,
such that the ordinary layperson could understand its potential impact upon him
or her[.]" Id. at 239. However, "[t]he notice need not be 'exhaustive' to satisfy
this standard." Shakoor Supermarkets, Inc., 420 N.J. Super. at 201 (citing
Perlmart, 295 N.J. Super. at 239). Nor must the notice be couched in overly
technical terms. Perlmart, 295 N.J. Super. at 238-39.
We applied these principles in Perlmart to invalidate a developer's
applications for site plan approvals, variances and a conditional use permit
where the public notice stated only that the applications were "for the creation
of commercial lots," and did not tell the public that lots were intended to be
developed as a shopping center. Id. at 237, 241. The defective notice failed to
"inform the public of the nature of the application in a common sense manner"
that would alert an ordinary layperson to consider obtaining further information
from the plans on file and possibly appear at the hearing to object. Id. at 239.
Likewise, in Pond Run, 397 N.J. Super. 335, we applied these principles
in evaluating a public notice concerning a proposed project that required use
variances. We rejected in that case appellant's contention that a typographical
error in the notice specifying the parcel's lot and block number made the notice
jurisdictionally defective. Id. at 348-49. On that point, we concluded the
description of the property was sufficiently clear to vitiate the typographical
error. Ibid. However, we nullified the land use approval because of a different
notice defect. Id. at 355. The notice merely described the proposed use – which
involved a 168-seat restaurant with a proposed liquor license – as a residential
mixed-use facility with "retail/office units." Id. at 346, 353-55. We found this
uninformative description was inadequate, and set aside the zoning board's
approval even though the project was already partially built. Ibid.
The lesson of these cases is that appropriate public notice serves an
important "gatekeeping" function in land use matters. It is not sufficient for an
applicant to circulate and publish an uninformative and vague notice and expect
local residents to go down to municipal offices to inspect the plans in order to
ascertain the critical features of the proposal.
Here, the public notice issued by RD Lakewood is likewise deficient with
respect to the material characteristics of the proposed uses. The notice states
that the project will include a "bank" and a "hotel." It does not describe the
activities that are contemplated within the hotel, specifically the plan to include
a restaurant, a banquet facility, and to obtain a liquor license so that alcohol will
be served on the premises. The Township's ordinances define a "hotel" as
Hotel or Resort Hotel: A building having sleeping
rooms for the temporary occupancy of guests and in
which there is located a lobby or recreational area with
This definition omits any mention of a restaurant, a bar, or a banquet hall. In
fact, the Township's ordinance contains a definition of a restaurant, as follows:
A business establishment whose principal business is
the selling of unpackaged food to the customer in a
ready to consume state . . . and where the customer
consumes these foods while seated at tables or counters
located within the building.
The Township's zoning districts and regulations allows "hotels and/or
conference centers" as permitted uses in the zone. Yet, RD Lakewood's public
notice did not disclose that it envisioned this hotel to apparently function as a
Moreover, there is no mention in the notice of a bar or a liquor license. 6
As in Pond Run, 397 N.J. Super. at 354, a facility that is expected to be serving
alcohol, and thereby inviting patrons who will drive to the location in order to
consume intoxicating liquors, presents concerns of traffic and public safety that
would reasonably be of concern to surrounding residents and property owners.
As we have noted, the trial court rejected this argument by LRA, reasoning
that "the plans on file sufficiently noticed any interested party that the hotel
Counsel for the parties advised us at oral argument, and confirmed at our
request in post-argument submissions, that the proposed hotel would be eligible
for a liquor license under State alcoholic beverage laws because it would have
over 100 rooms. N.J.S.A. 33:1-12.20(a).
would include a restaurant/bar/banquet or meeting room amenity" and "[t]hese
are common amenities in a hotel of this size associated with a national brand."
We respectfully disagree.
We take judicial notice that not all hotels contain a restaurant with such
amenities, including some brand-name establishments. Many hotels do not have
a bar and a liquor license. Many also do not operate a banquet facility or
conference center. Although the number of requested hotel parking spaces
disclosed in the notice suggests the hotel would accommodate many guests, an
average citizen would not likely interpret that to mean the hotel was expected to
serve alcohol or operate a banquet facility. While we agree the actual "brand
name" of the hotel can be omitted from the notice, Shakoor Supermarkets, Inc.,
420 N.J. Super. at 201, that omission is not the source of the defect.
Furthermore, as case law instructs, the adequacy of the plans on file does not
cure a defective notice. See Perlmart, 295 N.J. Super. at 237-38.
Viewing the totality of the circumstances, we conclude the public notice
issued by RD Lakewood was materially deficient in this respect. Given that
jurisdictional defect, the Board's approval must be set aside. 7
We appreciate that LRA was aware of the application and extensively
participated in the Board hearing. But that participation does not cure the
insufficiency of the notice to the public at large.
That said, we reject the balance of appellant's criticisms of the notice.
None of those other criticisms is persuasive, and we adopt the trial court's sound
reasons for rejecting them.
A separate basis for reversing the trial court's decision in this case stems
from the fact that respondents improperly supplemented the municipal record by
presenting to the court various reports and exhibits that were not presented to
the Board members before they voted to approve the application. These items
included partial documents related to litigation between different parties, an
unexecuted "partial agreement" for purchase of real estate, an option agreement,
and an "expert opinion" from Madison Title Agency, LLC. LRA timely objected
to those exhibits being considered by the trial court. The court did not address
A court's review of the Board's decision should be based solely on the
record before the Board. Kramer v. Bd. of Adjustment, 45 N.J. 268, 289 (1965).
Although the Board is not obligated to function in a vacuum, several of the
exhibits RD Lakewood presented to the trial court in defending the prerogative
writs action were prepared after the Board approved the application. One such
exhibit is an expert opinion from Madison Title Agency, LLC, regarding a
roadway shown going through Lot 2.03.
We disagree with respondents' characterization that these supplementary
exhibits were, in essence, all items of mere "resolution compliance" that did not
have to be presented to the Board members before they voted. Where, as here,
an objector represented by counsel actively participated in the hearing, it was
especially important that material exhibits supplied to bolster the applicant's
position not be supplied after-the-fact. Had those exhibits been submitted before
the trial court litigation, the objector might well have requested the Board
hearing be continued or reopened, and perhaps marshalled competing expert
proofs. The approval must be set aside on this independent basis.
For these discrete reasons, we reverse the trial court's ruling and invalidate
the Board's decision, without prejudice to further proceedings before the Board
with proper notice.
All other arguments raised on appeal lack sufficient merit to warrant
discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).