quill.gif (3183 bytes)

1975 N.J. LEXIS 181, ***

 

SOUTHERN BURLINGTON COUNTY N.A.A.C.P. v. TOWNSHIP OF MOUNT LAUREL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT

Supreme Court of New Jersey

67 N.J. 151; 336 A.2d 713; 1975 N.J. LEXIS 181

  

 OPINIONBY: HALL

 OPINION: This case attacks the system of land use regulation by defendant Township of Mount Laurel on the ground that low and moderate income families are thereby unlawfully excluded from the municipality. The trial court so found, and declared the township zoning ordinance totally invalid. Its judgment went on, in line with the requests for affirmative relief, to order the municipality... to present a plan of affirmative public action designed "to enable and encourage the satisfaction of the indicated needs." Jurisdiction was retained for judicial consideration and approval of such a plan and for the entry of a final order requiring its implementation.

 

The implications of the issue presented are indeed broad and far-reaching, extending much beyond these particular plaintiffs and the boundaries of this particular municipality.

 

There is not the slightest doubt that New Jersey has been, and continues to be, faced with a desperate need for housing, especially of decent living accommodations economically suitable for low and moderate income families. The situation was characterized as a "crisis" and fully explored and documented by Governor Cahill…

 

Plaintiffs represent the minority group poor (black and Hispanic) seeking such quarters. But they are not the only category of persons barred from so many municipalities by reason of restrictive land use regulations. We have reference to young and elderly couples, single persons and large, growing families not in the poverty class, but who still cannot afford the only kinds of housing realistically permitted in most places -- relatively high-priced, single-family detached dwellings on sizeable lots and, in some municipalities, expensive apartments. We will, therefore, consider the case from the wider viewpoint that the effect of Mount Laurel's land use regulation has been to prevent various categories of persons from living in the township because of the limited extent of their income and resources. In this connection, we accept the representation of the municipality's counsel at oral argument that the regulatory scheme was not adopted with any desire or intent to exclude prospective residents on the obviously illegal basis of race, origin or believed social incompatibility.

 

Mount Laurel is a flat, sprawling township, 22 square miles, or about 14,000 acres, in area, on the west central edge of Burlington County [discussion of how population has grown since the 1950s].  The location and nature of development has been, as usual, controlled by the local zoning enactments. The general ordinance presently in force, which was declared invalid by the trial court, was adopted in 1964.

 

Under the present ordinance, 29.2% of all the land in the township, or 4,121 acres, is zoned for industry---2,800 more acres than were so zoned by the 1954 ordinance.. [Much of the] land so zoned has remained undeveloped. If it were fully utilized, the testimony was that about 43,500 industrial jobs would be created, but it appeared clear that, as happens in the case of so many municipalities, much more land has been so zoned than the reasonable potential for industrial movement or expansion warrants. At the same time, however, the land cannot be used for residential development under the general ordinance.

 

The balance of the land area, almost 10,000 acres, has been developed until recently in the conventional form of major subdivisions. The general ordinance provides for four residential zones, designated R-1, R-1D, R-2 and R-3. All permit only single-family, detached dwellings, one house per lot -- the usual form of grid development. Attached townhouses, apartments (except on farms for agricultural workers) and mobile homes are not allowed anywhere in the township under the general ordinance. This dwelling development, resulting in the previously mentioned quadrupling of the population, has been largely confined to the R-1 and R-2 districts in two sections -- the northeasterly and southwesterly corners adjacent to the turnpike and other major highways. The result has been quite intensive development of these sections, but at a low density.

 

The general ordinance requirements, while not as restrictive as those in many similar municipalities, nonetheless realistically allow only homes within the financial reach of persons of at least middle income. The R-1 zone requires a minimum lot area of 9,375 square feet, minimum lot width of 75 feet at the building line, and a minimum dwelling floor area of 1,100 square feet if a one-story building and 1,300 square feet if one and one-half stories or higher... The R-2 zone, …[w]hile it only required a minimum floor area of 900 square feet for a one-story dwelling, the minimum lot size was 11,000 square feet; otherwise the requisites were the same as in the R-1 zone.

 

The general ordinance places the remainder of the township, outside of the industrial and commercial zones and the R-1D district in the R-3 zone. This zone comprises over 7,000 acres -- slightly more than half of the total municipal area -- practically all of which is located in the central part of the township extending southeasterly… The testimony was that about 4,600 acres of it then remained available for housing development. Ordinance requirements are substantially higher, however, in that the minimum lot size is increased to about one-half acre (20,000 square feet). Lot width at the building line must be 100 feet. Minimum dwelling floor area is as in the R-1 zone. Presently this section is primarily in agricultural use; it contains as well most of the municipality's substandard housing.

 

A variation from conventional development has recently occurred in some parts of Mount Laurel, as in a number of other similar municipalities, by use of the land use regulation device known as "planned unit development" (PUD). This scheme differs from the traditional in that the type, density and placement of land uses and buildings, instead of being detailed and confined to specified districts by local legislation in advance, is determined by contract, or "deal,"…between the developer and the municipal administrative authority, under broad guidelines laid down by state enabling legislation and an implementing local ordinance. The stress is on regulation of density and permitted mixture of uses within the same area, including various kinds of living accommodations with or without commercial and industrial enterprises…

 

[Three development] projects… are very substantial and involve at least 10,000 sale and rental housing units of various types to be erected over a period of years… If completed as planned, they will in themselves ultimately quadruple the 1970 township population, but still leave a good part of the township undeveloped…While multi-family housing in the form of rental garden, medium rise and high rise apartments and attached townhouses is for the first time provided for, as well as single-family detached dwellings for sale, it is not designed to accommodate and is beyond the financial reach of low and moderate income families, especially those with young children. The aim is quite the contrary; as with the single-family homes in the older conventional subdivisions, only persons of medium and upper income are sought as residents.

 

All this affirmative action for the benefit of certain segments of the population is in sharp contrast to the lack of action, and indeed hostility, with respect to affording any opportunity for decent housing for the township's own poor living in substandard accommodations, found largely in the section known as Springville (R-3 zone). The 1969 Master Plan Report recognized it and recommended positive action. The continuous official reaction has been rather a negative policy of waiting for dilapidated premises to be vacated and then forbidding further occupancy. An earlier non-governmental effort to improve conditions had been effectively thwarted. In 1968 a private non-profit association sought to build subsidized, multi-family housing in the Springville section with funds to be granted by a higher level governmental agency. Advance municipal approval of the project was required. The Township Committee responded with a purportedly approving resolution, which found a need for "moderate" income housing in the area, but went on to specify that such housing must be constructed subject to all zoning, planning, building and other applicable ordinances and codes. This meant single-family detached dwellings on 20,000 square foot lots. (Fear was also expressed that such housing would attract low income families from outside the township.) Needless to say, such requirements killed realistic housing for this group of low and moderate income families.

 

The record thoroughly substantiates the findings of the trial court that over the years Mount Laurel "has acted affirmatively to control development and to attract a selective type of growth" and that "through its zoning ordinances has exhibited economic discrimination in that the poor have been deprived of adequate housing and the opportunity to secure the construction of subsidized housing, and has used federal, state, county and local finances and resources n9 solely for the betterment of middle and upper-income persons."

 

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the reason for this course of conduct has been to keep down local taxes on property (Mount Laurel is not a high tax municipality) and that the policy was carried out without regard for nonfiscal considerations with respect to people, either within or without its boundaries. This conclusion is demonstrated not only by what was done and what happened, as we have related, but also by innumerable direct statements of municipal officials at public meetings over the years… No official testified to the contrary.

 

[discussion of the prevalence of such activities in municipalities over New Jersey]

 

One incongruous result is the picture of developing municipalities rendering it impossible for lower paid employees of industries they have eagerly sought and welcomed with open arms (and, in Mount Laurel's case, even some of its own lower paid municipal employees) to live in the community where they work.

 

The other end of the spectrum should also be mentioned because it shows the source of some of the demand for cheaper housing than the developing municipalities have permitted. Core cities were originally the location of most commerce and industry. Many of those facilities furnished employment for the unskilled and semi-skilled. These employees lived relatively near their work, so sections of cities always have housed the majority of people of low and moderate income, generally in old and deteriorating housing. Despite the municipally confined tax structure, commercial and industrial ratables generally used to supply enough revenue to provide and maintain municipal services equal or superior to those furnished in most suburban and rural areas.

 

The economically better situated city residents helped fill up the miles of sprawling new housing developments, not fully served by public transit. In a society which came to depend more and more on expensive individual motor vehicle transportation for all purposes, low income employees very frequently could not afford to reach outlying places of suitable employment and they certainly could not afford the permissible housing near such locations. These people have great difficulty in obtaining work and have been forced to remain in housing which is overcrowded, and has become more and more substandard and less and less tax productive.

 

There has been a consequent critical erosion of the city tax base and inability to provide the amount and quality of those governmental services -- education, health, police, fire, housing and the like -- so necessary to the very existence of safe and decent city life. This category of city dwellers desperately needs much better housing and living conditions than is available to them now, both in a rehabilitated city and in outlying municipalities. They make up, along with the other classes of persons earlier mentioned who also cannot afford the only generally permitted housing in the developing municipalities, the acknowledged great demand for low and moderate income housing.

 

The legal question… is whether a developing municipality like Mount Laurel may validly, by a system of land use regulation, make it physically and economically impossible to provide low and moderate income housing in the municipality for the various categories of persons who need and want it and thereby, as Mount Laurel has, exclude such people from living within its confines because of the limited extent of their income and resources. Necessarily implicated are the broader questions of the right of such municipalities to limit the kinds of available housing and of any obligation to make possible a variety and choice of types of living accommodations.

 

We reach this conclusion under state law and so do not find it necessary to consider federal constitutional grounds urged by plaintiffs. We begin with some fundamental principles as applied to the scene before us.

 

Land use regulation is encompassed within the state's police power. Our constitutions have expressly so provided since an amendment in 1927. That amendment, now Art. IV, sec. VI, par. 2 of the 1947 Constitution, authorized legislative delegation of the power to municipalities (other than counties), but reserved the legislative right to repeal or alter the delegation (which we take it means repeal or alteration in whole or in part)...

 

It is elementary theory that all police power enactments, no matter at what level of government, must conform to the basic state constitutional requirements of substantive due process and equal protection of the laws. These are inherent in Art. I, par. 1 of our Constitution, the requirements of which may be more demanding than those of the federal Constitution. It is required that, affirmatively, a zoning regulation, like any police power enactment, must promote public health, safety, morals or the general welfare. (The last term seems broad enough to encompass the others). Conversely, a zoning enactment which is contrary to the general welfare is invalid. Indeed these considerations are specifically set forth in the zoning enabling act as among the various purposes of zoning for which regulations must be designed. Their inclusion therein really adds little; the same requirement would exist even if they were omitted. If a zoning regulation violates the enabling act in this respect, it is also theoretically invalid under the state constitution. We say "theoretically" because, as a matter of policy, we do not treat the validity of most land use ordinance provisions as involving matters of constitutional dimension; that classification is confined to major questions of fundamental import. We consider the basic importance of housing and local regulations restricting its availability to substantial segments of the population to fall within the latter category.

 

Frequently the decisions in this state, including those just cited, have spoken only in terms of the interest of the enacting municipality, so that it has been thought, at least in some quarters, that such was the only welfare requiring consideration. It is, of course, true that many cases have dealt only with regulations having little, if any, outside impact where the local decision is ordinarily entitled to prevail. However, it is fundamental and not to be forgotten that the zoning power is a police power of the state and the local authority is acting only as a delegate of that power and is restricted in the same manner as is the state. So, when regulation does have a substantial external impact, the welfare of the state's citizens beyond the borders of the particular municipality cannot be disregarded and must be recognized and served.

 

… There cannot be the slightest doubt that shelter, along with food, are the most basic human needs. "The question of whether a citizenry has adequate and sufficient housing is certainly one of the prime considerations in assessing the general health and welfare of that body." New Jersey Mortgage Finance Agency v. McCrane. The same thought is implicit in the legislative findings of an extreme, long-time need in this state for decent low and moderate income housing, set forth in the numerous statutes providing for various agencies and methods at both state and local levels designed to aid in alleviation of the need. It is plain beyond dispute that proper provision for adequate housing of all categories of people is certainly an absolute essential in promotion of the general welfare required in all local land use regulation. Further the universal and constant need for such housing is so important and of such broad public interest that the general welfare which developing municipalities like Mount Laurel must consider extends beyond their boundaries and cannot be parochially confined to the claimed good of the particular municipality. It has to follow that, broadly speaking, the presumptive obligation arises for each such municipality affirmatively to plan and provide, by its land use regulations, the reasonable opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing, including, of course, low and moderate cost housing, to meet the needs, desires and resources of all categories of people who may desire to live within its boundaries. Negatively, it may not adopt regulations or policies which thwart or preclude that opportunity.

 

Without further elaboration at this point, our opinion is that Mount Laurel's zoning ordinance is presumptively contrary to the general welfare and outside the intended scope of the zoning power in the particulars mentioned. A facial showing of invalidity is thus established, shifting to the municipality the burden of establishing valid superseding reasons for its action and non-action. We now examine the reasons it advances. By way of summary, what we have said comes down to this. As a developing municipality, Mount Laurel must, by its land use regulations, make realistically possible the opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing for all categories of people who may desire to live there, of course including those of low and moderate income. It must permit multi-family housing, without bedroom or similar restrictions, as well as small dwellings on very small lots, low cost housing of other types and, in general, high density zoning, without artificial and unjustifiable minimum requirements as to lot size, building size and the like, to meet the full panoply of these needs. Certainly when a municipality zones for industry and commerce for local tax benefit purposes, it without question must zone to permit adequate housing within the means of the employees involved in such uses. (If planned unit developments are authorized, one would assume that each must include a reasonable amount of low and moderate income housing in its residential "mix," unless opportunity for such housing has already been realistically provided for elsewhere in the municipality.) The amount of land removed from residential use by allocation to industrial and commercial purposes must be reasonably related to the present and future potential for such purposes. In other words, such municipalities must zone primarily for the living welfare of people and not for the benefit of the local tax rate.

 

We have earlier stated that a developing municipality's obligation to afford the opportunity for decent and adequate low and moderate income housing extends at least to the municipality's fair share of the present and prospective regional need therefor." Frequently it might be sounder to have more of such housing, like some specialized land uses, in one municipality in a region than in another, because of greater availability of suitable land, location of employment, accessibility of public transportation or some other significant reason. But, under present New Jersey legislation, zoning must be on an individual municipal basis, rather than regionally. So long as that situation persists under the present tax structure, or in the absence of some kind of binding agreement among all the municipalities of a region, we feel that every municipality therein must bear its fair share of the regional burden. (In this respect our holding is broader than that of the trial court, which was limited to Mount Laurel-related low and moderate income housing needs.)

 

We are not at all sure what the trial judge had in mind as ultimate action with reference to the approval of a plan for affirmative public action concerning the satisfaction of indicated housing needs and the entry of a final order requiring implementation thereof. Courts do not build housing nor do municipalities. That function is performed by private builders, various kinds of associations, or, for public housing, by special agencies created for that purpose at various levels of government. The municipal function is initially to provide the opportunity through appropriate land use regulations and we have spelled out what Mount Laurel must do in that regard. It is not appropriate at this time, particularly in view of the advanced view of zoning law as applied to housing laid down by this opinion, to deal with the matter of the further extent of judicial power in the field or to exercise any such power. The municipality should first have full opportunity to itself act without judicial supervision. We trust it will do so in the spirit we have suggested, both by appropriate zoning ordinance amendments and whatever additional action encouraging the fulfillment of its fair share of the regional need for low and moderate income housing may be indicated as necessary and advisable. (We have in mind that there is at least a moral obligation in a municipality to establish a local housing agency pursuant to state law to provide housing for its resident poor now living in dilapidated, unhealthy quarters.) The portion of the trial court's judgment ordering the preparation and submission of the aforesaid study, report and plan to it for further action is therefore vacated as at least premature. Should Mount Laurel not perform as we expect, further judicial action may be sought by supplemental pleading in this cause.

 

 The judgment of the Law Division is modified as set forth herein. No costs. [**735]

 

 CONCURBY: MOUNTAIN; PASHMAN

 

 CONCUR: MOUNTAIN, J. (concurring). I agree with the conclusions reached in the Court's opinion and essentially with the opinion itself. In one important respect, however, I disagree. The Court rests its decision upon a ground of State constitutional law. I reach the same result by concluding that the term, "general welfare," appearing in N.J.S.A. 40:55-32, can and should properly be interpreted with the same amplitude attributed to that phrase in the opinion of the Court, as well as otherwise in the manner there set forth. I therefore would rest the conclusions we here announce upon an interpretation of the statute, and not upon the State constitution.  Accordingly, since I read the statute -- without resort to the Constitution -- to justify, if not compel, our decision, I find it unnecessary to express any view as to the merits of the constitutional argument set forth in the Court's opinion.

 

 PASHMAN, J. (concurring). With this decision, the Court begins to cope with the dark side of municipal land use regulation -- the use of the zoning power to advance the parochial interests of the municipality at the expense of the surrounding region and to establish and perpetuate social and economic segregation.

 

 The problem is not a new one. Early opponents of zoning advanced the possibility of such abuse as an argument against allowing municipalities the power to zone. In the light of existing population and land conditions within our State these powers may fairly be exercised without in anywise endangering the needs or reasonable expectations of any segments of our people. If and when conditions change, alterations in zoning restrictions and pertinent legislative and judicial attitudes need not be long delayed.

 

The growth of the new suburbs, first as affluent residential communities and, more recently, as sites for commercial and industrial development, leaving persons with low or even moderate incomes housed inadequately in the cities and the older, inner suburbs, far from new sources of employment, magnified the importance of the problem, moving it from the realm of speculation to that of physical and social reality.

 

I differ from the majority only in that I would have the Court go farther and faster in its implementation of the principles announced today. The fact that abuses of the municipal zoning power are now widespread and derive from attitudes and premises deeply ingrained in the suburban planning and zoning processes requires that the Court not restrict itself to the facts of this particular case but, rather, lay down broad guidelines for judicial review of municipal zoning decisions which implicate these abuses.

 

The misuse of the municipal zoning power at issue in this case, generically described as "exclusionary zoning," involves two distinct but interrelated practices: (1) the use of the zoning power by municipalities to take advantage of the benefits of regional development without having to bear the burdens of such development; and (2) the use of the zoning power by municipalities to maintain themselves as enclaves of affluence or of social homogeneity.

 

Both of these practices are improper and to be strongly condemned. They are violative of the requirement, found both in the Constitution of 1947, Art. I, § 1 and the zoning enabling statute itself, that municipal zoning ordinances further the general welfare. They are inconsistent with the fundamental premise of the New Jersey zoning legislation that zoning is concerned with the physical condition of the municipality not its social condition. In a deeper sense, they are repugnant to the ideals of the pluralistic democracy which America has become.

 

The majority has chosen not to explore in this case either the extent of the affirmative obligations upon developing municipalities or the role of the courts in enforcing those obligations. It has also chosen not to consider the degree to which the principles applicable to developing municipalities are also applicable to rural ones and to largely developed ones. The facts set out above seem to me to demonstrate that exclusionary zoning is a problem of such magnitude and depth as to require that the Court extend these principles to all municipalities in the State, recognizing, of course, that they may have different implications for municipal conduct when applied in different areas, and that the Court establish a policy of active judicial enforcement, not only of the negative obligations imposed upon municipalities by this decision but also of the affirmative obligations.

 

 A municipality need not exercise at all the powers permitted it by the zoning and planning statutes. Once, however, it chooses to enter the field of land use regulation it assumes a duty -- one of constitutional dimensions, deriving from N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, § 1 -- to act affirmatively to provide its fair share of the low and moderate income housing necessary to meet the regional housing needs.

 

There is little hope that the private housing construction industry will be able to satisfy the State's housing needs in the foreseeable future, even if all exclusionary barriers are removed. To meet these needs, State or federal assistance will be required. This fact has been recognized by both the State Legislature and Congress in a lengthy series of statutes providing governmental subsidies for private construction and ownership of low and moderate income housing. To a greater or lesser degree, all of the programs require active municipal cooperation. Failure to actively cooperate in the implementation of such programs as effectively thwarts the meeting of regional needs for low and moderate income housing as does outright exclusion. Developing municipalities have a duty to make all reasonable efforts to encourage and facilitate private efforts to take advantage of these programs.

 

Since conflicting decisions within a given region would be highly undesirable, all municipalities in the region should be joined as parties at the earliest practical point in the proceedings, if not at the instance of one of the parties, then on the motion of the court.

 

It is not the business of this Court or any member of it to instruct the municipalities of the State of New Jersey on the good life. Nevertheless, I cannot help but note that many suburban communities have accepted at face value the traditional canard whispered by the "blockbuster": "When low income families move into your neighborhood, it will cease being a decent place to live." But as there is no difference between the love of low income mothers and fathers and those of high income for their children, so there is no difference between the desire for a decent community felt by one group and that felt by the other. Many low income families have learned from necessity the desirability of community involvement and improvement. At least as well as persons with higher incomes, they have learned that one cannot simply leave the fate of the community in the hands of the government, that things do not run themselves, but simply run down.

 

Equally important, many suburban communities have failed to learn the lesson of cultural pluralism. A homogeneous community, one exhibiting almost total similarities of taste, habit, custom and behavior is culturally dead, aside from being downright boring. New and different life styles, habits and customs are the lifeblood of America. They are its strength, its growth force. Just as diversity strengthens and enriches the country as a whole, so will it strengthen and enrich a suburban community. Like animal species that over-specialize and breed out diversity and so perish in the course of evolution, communities, too, need racial, cultural, social and economic diversity to cope with our rapidly changing times.

 

Finally, many suburban communities have failed to recognize to whom the environment actually belongs. By environment, I mean not just land or housing, but air and water, flowers and green trees. There is a real sense in which clean air belongs to everyone, a sense in which green trees and flowers are everyone's right to see and smell. The right to enjoy these is connected to a citizen's right to life, to pursue his own happiness as he sees fit provided his pursuit does not infringe another's rights.

 

The people of New Jersey should welcome the result reached by the Court in this case, not merely because it is required by our laws, but, more fundamentally, because the result is right and true to the highest American ideals.

 

 

Human and Constitutional Rights Resource Page


Comparative Bills of Rights ||Housing