NJ Zoning Laws: Costly, Corrupt, Unfair, Unncecessary
By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
??? In 1903, the Leeds Family of Atlantic City owned an old wooden hotel at North Carolina Avenue and the Boardwalk called the Chalfonte.?? In September, at the end of the season, they started to tear down the old hotel.?? On December 9, 1903, they began construction of a new 10 story brick and steel skyscraper hotel on the site.?? In just over six months, the brand new Chalfonte Hotel was finished, furnished, and open for business for the July 4th Weekend of 1904.?? During this time, hundreds of buildings in Atlantic City were built just as quick.
??? In 1929, Atlantic City became one of the first towns in New Jersey to adopt zoning laws.?? Ironically the same Leeds family that built the new Chalfonte Hotel free of zoning restrictions, joined other big hotel owners to stop competitors from building bigger and better hotels along the Boardwalk two miles south.
??? The new zoning laws were ignored and forgotten for the next 20 years because of the Great Depression and World War II.?? But there was big support for strict zoning laws during the 1950’s and 1960’s.?? Politicians saw them as a great new way to exercise power, shake down people for money, and silence opponents.??
???? Today, each of our state’s 567 cities and towns has a zoning “master plan”, where local politicians decide what can and cannot be built on every piece of land in town.
??? Last year, the owners of a 73,000 square foot piece of land in Egg Harbor Township, just outside of Atlantic City, wanted to build a 52 room motel by the Black Horse Pike.?? If it were 1903, and we didn’t have zoning laws, the new motel would be open by now.???
??? But the planning process is just beginning.?? Egg Harbor Township zoning laws require a minimum lot size of 80,000 square feet for every new building near the Pike.?? Does this requirement make any sense??? Probably not.?? But no problem.?? As I wrote previously, only suckers follow zoning laws.
??? Local Planning and Zoning Boards have the power to grant “variances” to most zoning laws whenever they like.?? Local councils, commissions and township committees also can set up special “Redevelopment Zones” that allow certain folks to ignore all zoning laws, and write special zoning laws for just their own properties – and also get tax abatements and cheap land taken from others through eminent domain.
??? But only special people get this special treatment.?? It helps to be friends with the politicians who run your town.?? Some crude developers make friends with cash bribes.?? But most hire expensive professionals who make “legal” campaign contributions.
??? Last year, the folks who want to build the motel applied for a “variance” from the 80,000 square foot requirement.?? They hired an expensive lawyer, an architect, and a project engineer for “expert” opinions that the proposed motel would look and work just fine on their 73,000 square foot lot.??
??? But after three long meetings, the Planning Board still did not approve the variance.?? It seems that someone with influence (a member of the Zoning Board), owns a small office building next door on a 12,630 square foot lot.?? That neighbor opposes the variance because he wants the motel people to buy his land at a very high price.
??? The motel people say they don’t need the extra land, and besides, the neighbor wants too much money.
??? Why should the motel people get a variance, if they can simply buy the land they need to meet the zoning requirement??? Why force them to have 80,000 square feet for their motel, if the neighbor can have an office building with only 12,630 square feet?
??? The short answer is that Condella’s building was probably “grandfathered” as a “lawful non-conforming use”.?? Anything built before a zoning law takes effect is legal, even if it violates the current law.?? But why use the term “grandfathered”?
??? After the Civil War, many southern states adopted literacy tests to keep blacks from voting.?? But many blacks quickly learned how to read and write, while many whites remained illiterate.?? These southern states then passed “grandfather” laws that let anyone vote without taking the test if his grandfather had previously voted.?? Since only whites had grandfathers who could vote, only whites could be “grandfathered” in without taking the test.?? What a brilliant model for New Jersey’s zoning laws!
For more information, visit www.libertyandprosperity.org or contact Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-927-7333.??? Seth Grossman hosts a two way talk radio program every Saturday from 8am – 9am on WVLT Vineland, 92.1 FM.