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Original WP 5.1 Version
This case can also be found at 137 N.J. 136.
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for
the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please
note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
Argued March 1, 1994 -- Decided August 4, 1994
POLLOCK, J., writing for a majority of the Court.
On December 22, 1992, the Point Pleasant Borough Council adopted an amendment to its zoning
ordinance that permitted, for the first time, retail uses in Town Center, a section of the Borough. Thereafter,
A&P sought to establish a supermarket in Town Center. It purchased a tract of land and submitted plans to
the Planning Board, which deemed A&P's application complete in September 1993.
In the interim, on July 20, 1993, the Council adopted a resolution that asked the Ocean County Clerk
to place a "question" on the general-election ballot concerning a repeal of the amendment to the zoning
ordinance. On September 16, 1993, A&P filed a suit in the Law Division, contending that the proposed public
question was a "referendum" prohibited by the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL). The Borough took the
position that the question was a non-binding referendum, which was not prohibited. The Law Division found
for A&P, finding that both binding and non-binding referenda were prohibited by the MLUL.
On an application for emergent relief, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court. The Supreme
Court denied A&P's motion for a stay, and the election went forward. By a vote of 3,789 to 2,078, the voters
of Point Pleasant expressed their preference to have the zoning ordinance amended to prohibit retail operations
in Town Center. The Council adopted such an amendment, and the Planning Board thereafter determined that
it no longer had jurisdiction over A&P's site plan application.
The Court granted A&P's petition for certification.
HELD: The provision in the Municipal Land Use Law that precludes the adoption of a zoning ordinance by
referendum does not prohibit the use of a non-binding referendum.
1. One purpose of the MLUL is to coordinate municipal land-use development. The entire zoning process is
replete with the opportunity for public participation. (pp. 6-7)
2. Section 62.b of the MLUL states that no zoning ordinance shall be submitted to, or adopted by, initiative or
referendum. As customarily used, "referendum" includes binding public actions only. (pp. 7-11)
3. A separate statute (N.J.S.A. 19:37-1) authorizes a governing body to ascertain public sentiment before that
body acts. It provides a method to gauge public opinion through the use of non-binding referenda. In the
absence of a clear expression of legislative intent, the Court cannot exclude voters from that process. (pp. 11-13)
4. Non-binding referenda do not conflict with the purposes of the MLUL. Indeed, after submitting a non-binding question to the voters, the governing body must still comply with the requirements for amending a zoning
ordinance. (pp. 13-15)
5. Here, the governing body pursued a course of action that the MLUL does not expressly address. The
submission of the public question to the voters provides "an additional approach to the legislative ear." (pp. 15-18)
6. Non-binding referenda are not tantamount to binding referenda. (pp. 19-21)
The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED.
JUSTICES CLIFFORD, O'HERN, and GARIBALDI join in JUSTICE POLLOCK's opinion. JUSTICE
STEIN has filed a separate dissenting opinion, in which JUSTICE HANDLER joins. CHIEF JUSTICE
WILENTZ did not participate.
STEIN, J., dissenting, is of the view that by mistakenly permitting the use of non-binding referenda to affect a municipality's zoning decisions, the Court undermines a process that has been carefully developed over more than sixty years to protect property owners and the public from zoning decisions based on considerations other than sound and comprehensive planning.
SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
A- 112 September Term 1993
THE GREAT ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC
THE BOROUGH OF POINT PLEASANT,
M. DEAN HAINES, COUNTY CLERK
Argued March 1, 1994 -- Decided August 4, 1994
On certification to the Superior Court,
Gail L. Price argued the cause for appellant
(Beattie Padovano, attorneys; Thomas W. Dunn,
on the brief).
Jerry J. Dasti argued the cause for
respondent (Dasti, Murphy & Wellerson,
Fred G. Stickel, III, General Counsel, argued
the cause for amici curiae, New Jersey State
League of Municipalities and Institute of
The opinion of the Court was delivered by
A section of the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62.B (section 62.b), prohibits the adoption or amendment of a zoning ordinance by referendum. The Law Division held that the prohibition includes a non-binding referendum. In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division reversed. We granted the petition for certification of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P), 134 N.J. 560 (1993), and now affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division. We hold that the prohibition in section 62.b against the adoption of a zoning ordinance by referendum does not include a non-binding referendum.
On December 22, 1992, the Point Pleasant Borough Council (the Borough or the Council) adopted Ordinance 92-70, an amendment to its zoning ordinance that permitted retail uses in Town Center, a section of Point Pleasant. Before that amendment, the zoning ordinance forbade such uses in Town Center. According to the Master Plan, the purpose of Town Center is to "allow either the establishment of low-intensity, nonretail commercial uses such as offices, or in the alternative, to look for the acquisition of all or part of the remaining vacant land to provide a more intensive area for public purposes."
After the 1992 amendment, A&P sought to establish a supermarket in Town Center. It purchased a tract of land and submitted a general concept plan to the Planning Board (the Board). A&P revised the plan, and the Council amended several
bulk requirements to accommodate A&P's plan. A&P then filed an
application for site plan approval with the Board, which deemed
the application complete in September 1993.
In the interim, on July 20, 1993, the Council adopted a
resolution that requested the Ocean County Clerk to place on the
November general-election ballot a "question" concerning the
repeal of Ordinance 92-70. The question and interpretive
Should the Borough Council amend the Borough
Zoning Ordinances to prohibit retail uses, in
the Town Center Zone?
The Borough Council has amended the Borough
Zoning Ordinances to allow for retail uses in
the Town Center Zone. If the zoning, as
currently amended, remains retail[,] uses
such as an A&P supermarke[t] will be allowed
as a permitted use in the Town Center Zone.
On September 16, 1993, A&P filed a complaint in the Law Division to enjoin placing the question on the November general-election ballot. A&P contended that the proposed public question was a prohibited referendum. The Borough answered that section 62.b did not apply because it concerned only referenda that were binding, not those that were non-binding public questions. At the hearing before the Law Division, the Borough offered to revise the wording of the question to clarify that an
affirmative vote would mean that the Borough would consider
amending the ordinance, not that it was bound to do so.
The Law Division ruled for A&P, determining that the
resolution was "an [ordinance], an amendment or revision to the
existing zoning ordinance," and rejected the Borough's offer to
revise the question. The court further determined that section
62.b did not distinguish between binding and non-binding
referenda and that the MLUL specifically provided alternative
means for public comment. Finally, the court held that a
municipality's zoning power was a delegation of the State's
police power and that the Borough could not delegate that power
to the public through a referendum. Consequently, the Law
Division declared the resolution invalid and enjoined the county
clerk from placing the question on the ballot.
On the Borough's application for emergent relief, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded the matter to the Law Division for entry of an order denying A&P relief. In a brief statement accompanying the order, the Appellate Division stated that section 62.b did not prohibit a municipality from submitting a non-binding question to voters pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:37-1. The court stated that section 62.b applied only to binding referenda and that non-binding referenda permitted by N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 are "a better means for the governing body to gather a true representation of public sentiment" than public meetings
required by the MLUL. We denied A&P's application for a stay,
and the election proceeded.
By a vote of 3,789 to 2,078, the voters of Point Pleasant
expressed their preference that the Council amend the zoning
ordinance to prohibit commercial retail uses such as A&P's
supermarket in Town Center. One week later, on November 9, 1993,
the Council adopted on first reading Ordinance 93-30, which
amended the zoning ordinance to prohibit such uses. The Planning
Board declined to make recommendations about the ordinance
because it believed that such action would constitute a conflict
of interest with its duty to review A&P's site plan. On December
21, 1993, the Council passed the ordinance on second reading, and
the mayor signed the ordinance the next day.
Meanwhile, the Planning Board conducted hearings in October
and November on A&P's site plan. Following a hearing on December
16, 1993, A&P agreed to an extension beyond December 21, the date
of the Council's scheduled second reading of Ordinance 93-30.
Consequently, the Planning Board scheduled a hearing for January
On January 6, however, the Planning Board refused to continue the hearings, because it was uncertain whether Ordinance 93-30 had been filed with the county planning board as required by N.J.S.A. 40:55D-16. If the ordinance had been filed, A&P's proposed supermarket would be a non-conforming use and the
Planning Board would not have had jurisdiction to review the site
plan. After adjourning the matter until January 13, the Board
determined that it never had had jurisdiction to consider A&P's
application, because Ordinance 92-70, the earlier amendment that
permitted commercial retail uses in Town Center, had never been
filed with the county planning board.
In municipal government, few issues generate as much public interest as the control of land-use development. Zoning ordinances touch people where they live. Sensitive to the intense public interest in local land-use development, the Legislature has developed an orderly structure for public participation in the process. That process also contemplates the rational development of land use, free from undue political influence. This appeal questions whether the Legislature has banned local voters from expressing a non-binding preference for proposed zoning amendments.
One purpose of the MLUL, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -129, was to coordinate municipal land-use development. The MLUL incorporates statutory regulations concerning zoning and planning, planned unit developments, site-plan approval, and the adoption of master plans. Senate and County Mun. Gov't Comm., Statement to Senate Bill No. 3054, 1, 67 (May 8, 1975) (Committee Statement). Through the MLUL, the Legislature intended to simplify procedures for land-use regulation, eliminate jurisdictional overlaps,
reduce costs, and promote construction. Id. at 1; see also
N.J.S.A. 40:55D-2 (outlining intent and purpose of MLUL). The
MLUL also recognizes "the increasing awareness of the public
involvement and right-to-know . . . ." Office of Governor
Brendan T. Byrne, Press Release (Jan. 14, 1978) ("This measure
should reduce costs, cut red tape and promote needed
construction."). See The Municipal Land Use Law, New Jersey
Municipalities, Mar. 1976, at 8 (New Jersey Municipalities).
The zoning process begins with the adoption of a master plan
by the planning board. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-23 to -28. Once the
planning board adopts a master plan, the municipality may then
enact a conforming zoning ordinance. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62.a.
When adopting a zoning ordinance, the governing body introduces
the ordinance on first reading, N.J.S.A. 40:49-2.a; publishes a
notice of a public hearing, N.J.S.A. 40:49-2.b; submits the
ordinance to the planning board for review, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-26.a,
-64; and considers the ordinance for adoption after a second
reading, N.J.S.A. 40:49-2.c. In a borough such as Point
Pleasant, after the mayor signs the ordinance in accordance with
N.J.S.A. 40A:60-5.d, the governing body must file the ordinance
with the county planning board. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-16. The entire
process is replete with the opportunity for public participation.
See generally William M. Cox, New Jersey Zoning and Land Use
Administration §§ 34-1 to 34-2.5, at 498-505 (1994) (reviewing
procedure for adopting zoning ordinances).
Until the Legislature included section 62.b in the MLUL in 1975, only judicial decisions restricted the use of referenda on zoning ordinances. Prior statutes had not prohibited referenda. Compare N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62.b with R.S. 40:55D-30 to -32.
Section 62.b provides: "No zoning ordinance and no
amendment or revision to any zoning ordinance shall be submitted
to or adopted by initiative or referendum." The question is
whether "referendum" in section 62.b includes a non-binding
N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 defines a non-binding referendum,
identified as an "[o]rdinance or resolution for submitting
When the governing body of any
municipality or of any county desires to
ascertain the sentiment of the legal voters
of the municipality or county upon any
question or policy pertaining to the
government or internal affairs thereof, and
there is no other statute by which the
sentiment can be ascertained by the
submission of such question to a vote of the
electors in the municipality or county at any
election to be held therein, the governing
body may adopt at any regular meeting an
ordinance or a resolution requesting the
clerk of the county to print upon the
official ballots to be used at the next
ensuing general election a certain
proposition to be formulated and expressed in
the ordinance or resolution in concise form.
Such request shall be filed with the clerk of
the county not later than 74 days previous to
A&P argues that the absence of a distinction in section 62.b between binding and non-binding referenda signifies that the Legislature intended to proscribe all forms of referenda, both binding and non-binding. We disagree.
The MLUL does not define the term "referendum." See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-6 (defining terms "P to R" in MLUL). When construing legislation, in the absence of a specific definition, we give words their ordinary and well-understood meanings. Levin v. Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills, 82 N.J. 174, 182 (1980). Ordinarily, "referendum" does not include non-binding public questions. "Referendum" ordinarily refers to the power of the people to approve or reject legislative action, including specific legislation. See 42 Am. Jur 2d Initiative and Referendum § 1, at 649 (1969) ("The term 'referendum' refers to the power reserved to the people in some jurisdictions to approve or reject at the polls any act of the legislature, and also encompasses the power of the people to approve or reject
legislation which has been referred to them by the legislature.")
(footnotes omitted); see also City of Eastlake v. Forest City
426 U.S. 668, 678,
96 S. Ct. 2358, 2364,
49 L. Ed.2d 132, 140 (1976) ("'A referendum . . . is the city itself
legislating through its voters -- an exercise by the voters of
their traditional right through direct legislation to override
the views of their elected representatives as to what serves the
public interest.'" (quoting Southern Alameda Spanish Speaking
Org. v. City of Union City,
424 F.2d 291, 294 (9th Cir. 1970));
J.R. Kemper, Annotation, Adoption of Zoning Ordinance or
Amendment Thereto as Subject of Referendum,
72 A.L.R.3d 1030 n.2
(1976) (defining "referendum" as "the power reserved to the
people in some jurisdictions to approve or reject at the polls
any act of the legislature. . . . [I]t is the power of the
people to approve or set aside a measure which has actually been
theretofore passed or adopted by a legislative body . . . ."); 35
New Jersey Practice, Local Government Law § 484, at 337 (Michael
A. Pane) (2d ed. 1993) ("Referendum is the power to place enacted
ordinances on the ballot for ratification by the voters.");
Black's Law Dictionary 1152 (5th ed. 1979) ("Reservation by
people of a state, or local subdivision thereof, of right to have
submitted for their approval or rejection, under prescribed
conditions, any law or part of law passed by lawmaking body.").
Hence, the term "referendum" does not include all public
participation in governmental affairs. As customarily used,
"referendum" includes binding public actions only.
To the same effect, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-185, a provision of the
Faulkner Act, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-1 to -210, defines "referendum" as
the voters' "power to approve or reject at the polls any
ordinance submitted by the council to the voters or any ordinance
passed by the council . . . ." Although Point Pleasant is not
organized under the Faulkner Act, this provision sheds light on
the Legislature's understanding of the meaning of the word
"referendum." As used in the Faulkner Act, "referendum" means a
vote that is binding. We have no reason to believe that the
Legislature intended to impute a different meaning to
"referendum" in section 62.b.
Read literally, the terms of N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 refer not to
"referenda," but to the submission of public questions. Although
such questions are commonly described as "non-binding referenda,"
see New Jersey State AFL-CIO v. Bergen County Bd. of Chosen
121 N.J. 255, 258 (1990) (referring to public
question submitted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 as "non-binding
referendum"); Borough of Eatontown v. Danskin,
121 N.J. Super. 68, 72 (Law Div. 1972) (same); 35 New Jersey Practice, supra,
§ 483 (same); N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 (same, referring to statutory
title), that reference cannot transform a public question into a
The authorization in N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 to ascertain voter sentiment on public questions differs fundamentally from the power to ask voters to approve or to reject a specific
legislative act. N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 authorizes a governing body to
ascertain public sentiment before that body acts. It provides a
method to gauge public opinion, which the governing body may
consider or ignore in determining an appropriate course of
action. In contrast, a referendum reviews already-taken
governmental action and constitutes final voter acceptance or
rejection of that action. Because of these differences, we
believe that the plain meaning of "referendum" in section 62.b
does not include questions such as the one at issue here.
The dissent argues that the use of the verb "submitted" in
section 62.b must mean that the Legislature contemplated
prohibiting non-binding referenda. Post at ___ (slip op. at
10-12). Nothing in the words or history of section 62.b supports
the argument. In the Faulkner Act, moreover, the Legislature
used "submitted" when referring to action by initiative, N.J.S.A.
40:69A-184, or referendum, N.J.S.A. 40:69A-185. Both forms of
action result in action that is binding on the governing body.
Contrary to the dissent, the use of "submitted" in section 62.b
does not establish that the Legislature contemplated prohibiting
a non-binding referendum. In effect, the dissent asks the verb
to carry too much weight. We are satisfied that section 62.b
prohibits only a binding referendum.
The Legislature enacted N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 in 1930, L. 1930, c. 187. Consequently, we presume that when the Legislature
enacted section 62.b in 1975, L. 1975, c. 291, it knew that N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 already provided for submitting non-binding public questions to voters. We also presume that the Legislature knew that the term "referendum" did not include a vote on these public questions. Had the Legislature intended to preclude non-binding voter participation in the enactment of zoning ordinances, it could have expressly stated that section 62.b extends to a referendum, whether binding or non-binding. In the absence of a clear expression of legislative intent, we cannot exclude the public from expressing a preference on a matter of such importance as an amendment to a zoning ordinance. Any exclusion of voters from the democratic process must come from the Legislature, not from this Court.
A&P also argues that non-binding referenda conflict with the purposes of the MLUL, which the Legislature designed to ensure rational land-use planning, to balance the needs of affected property owners and of the public, and to provide for public hearings. Committee Statement, supra, at 1, 67; New Jersey Municipalities, supra, at 8. We find no such conflict.
The legislative history of the MLUL suggests that the Legislature was concerned with binding, not non-binding, public action. Article 8 of the MLUL was intended to "generally follow existing law and case law." New Jersey Municipalities,
supra, at 23; see also Committee Statement, supra, at 2 (stating
that many changes in MLUL "involve the incorporation of case law
into the planning statutes"). Prior land-use statutes did not
proscribe either referenda or public questions. See R.S.
40:55-30 to -32. Pre-MLUL judicial decisions involved attempts
to submit only binding referenda on zoning ordinances.
Two pre-MLUL cases involving municipalities established
under the Faulkner Act are illuminating. In the first case,
Smith v. Township of Livingston,
106 N.J. Super. 444, aff'd o.b.,
54 N.J. 525 (1969), the Chancery Division characterized the
zoning act as an exclusive grant of legislative power to
municipal governing bodies. It held that the act prevented
voters from exercising the power of initiative under N.J.S.A.
40:69A-185. Id. at 457. Using the same reasoning, the Appellate
Division in Township of Sparta v. Spillane,
125 N.J. Super. 519,
525 (1973), certif. denied,
64 N.J. 493 (1974), held that the
zoning act prohibited a binding referendum on a zoning amendment
under N.J.S.A. 40:69A-185. Smith and Spillane recognized that
binding actions, such as an initiative or a referendum, should
not extend to zoning ordinances. Such measures would circumvent
statutory procedural requirements and effectively remove local
governmental bodies from rational land-use planning.
Only one pre-MLUL case involved a non-binding referendum on a zoning amendment. In Danskin, supra, 121 N.J. Super. 68, objectors to a zoning amendment sought to place a non-binding
referendum on the general-election ballot pursuant to N.J.S.A.
19:37-1. The court rejected their application as untimely. Id.
at 78. In dicta, the court endorsed non-binding referenda:
the statutory device considered here for
ascertaining voter sentiment is so obviously
useful to those who are burdened with the
duty of promoting the public welfare that a
court should interfere only where a misuse is
plain and that the courts should favor every
effort by those charged with the
responsibility of government to canvass the
sentiment of the electorate where public
policy is concerned.
When interpreting legislation, we presume that the
Legislature is familiar with existing case law. Yanow v. Seven
Oaks Park, Inc.,
11 N.J. 341, 350 (1953). Consequently, we
assume that the Legislature knew that Smith and Spillane
prohibited initiatives and referenda and that Danskin approved
non-binding referenda. Nothing in the MLUL indicates that the
Legislature intended to change the result in any of those cases.
second reading. Furthermore, the Council grounded the
prohibition of retail commercial uses in Town Center in
traditional zoning considerations. Those considerations included
compliance with the master plan, which permitted commercial uses
as conditional uses only and did not include retail uses such as
the A&P supermarket. The Council also considered traffic
congestion, drainage problems, and public opinion. Here, the
public expressed its opinion not only at the public hearings, but
also in the non-binding referendum.
In an analogous case, Messer v. Township of Burlington,
172 N.J. Super. 479, 484-85 (1980), the Law Division considered the
validity of an ordinance that required zoning and planning boards
to hear applications for rezoning and to make recommendations to
the governing body, which could then either grant or deny the
applications. Although the MLUL did not expressly provide for
this procedure, the court in Messer concluded that the procedure
was permissible. Id. at 485. The court stated, "the rezoning
procedure authorized by the township merely permits the
initiation of a request for an amendment and does not affect the
discretion which the governing body has in such matters." Ibid.
"[I]t confers a benefit by providing an additional approach to
the legislative ear." Id. at 486.
Here, as in Messer, the governing body pursued a course of action that the MLUL did not expressly address. In Messer, the governing body ordained that it could require zoning and planning
boards to make recommendations concerning zoning amendments.
Here, the governing body resolved to ascertain public opinion on
the challenged amendment.
Like the authorization to proceed before the Planning Board
or Board of Adjustment, the submission of a public question to
voters provides "an additional approach to the legislative ear."
As the court stated in Messer:
The method by which a governing body may
launch an amendment for consideration is not
set forth [in the MLUL]. . . . It may be
commenced in any of the myriad of ways in
which legislation is brought about, e.g.,
through public petition, correspondence,
public appearances and communications of all
kinds from the community.
Like the property owners in Messer, the voters of Point Pleasant
could have appeared before the township
council and requested [that the zoning
ordinance be changed to prohibit retail
commercial uses in Town Center]; the
governing body, if it so chose, could have
acceded to [their] request. The procedure
established by [submission of the question to
the voters] established one method by which
legislative needs may be brought to its
Finally, the Senate Committee Statement accompanying the MLUL explains that section 62.b "[p]rohibits zoning by initiative
and referendum . . ., although protest referendums, on proposed
amendment or revision of zoning ordinances, are retained . . .."
Committee Statement, supra, at 5. This exception for "protest
referendums" sheds little light on whether the Legislature
intended to prohibit non-binding referenda. As defined by
N.J.S.A. 40:55D-63, "protest referendum" refers not to the
submission of a question to a public vote, but to the procedure
by which the owners of twenty percent or more of affected
property may prevent a zoning amendment from taking effect
"except by a favorable vote of two-thirds of all the members of
the governing body of the municipality." That section carries
forward a similar provision from pre-existing zoning law. See
Levin, supra, 82 N.J. at 180-82 (discussing protest provision
under MLUL and prior law). The retention of a requirement of a
heightened vote of a governing body because of a protest by
twenty percent of affected property owners hardly suggests that
the Legislature intended to deprive the general public of the
right to express a preference on a proposed zoning amendment. If
anything, the inclusion of the protest provision reflects the
Legislature's concentration on the expression of public opinion
that affects governmental action legally, not an expression that
is purely advisory.
A&P argues that the non-binding referendum was a "de facto" referendum that coerced the Council into adopting Ordinance 93-30. The argument has no merit.
Non-binding public questions are not tantamount to binding
referenda. N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 authorizes a governing body to
submit a public question on "any question or policy." The
statute makes no exception for zoning amendments. A&P's fear
about the deleterious effect of a non-binding plebiscite would
apply whenever municipal authorities seek public guidance on any
of the wide range of issues authorized by the statute. The
Legislature did not share that fear, stating: "Such result shall
not bind the governing body from which the ordinance or
resolution emanated, nor be taken or construed as other than an
expression of sentiment by the voters, to be followed or
disregarded by the governing body in its discretion." N.J.S.A.
Similarly, courts have rejected non-binding referenda only when the submitted questions have not pertained to issues over which the submitting body has any authority, see Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Szaferman, 117 N.J. 94, 106-07 (1989) (holding impermissible counties' non-binding referenda to advise Legislature on automobile-insurance regulations because issue was committed solely to Legislature); New Jersey State AFL-CIO,
supra, 121 N.J. at 260-61 (holding counties' non-binding
referenda on tax and school-aid laws impermissible because
counties had no power over issue), or when another statute
provides for measuring public sentiment, see Board of Educ. v.
City of Hackensack,
63 N.J. Super. 560, 568 (1960) (holding
impermissible non-binding referendum concerning school
construction bond issue because another statute permitted
submission of question). By contrast, the Legislature has
specifically delegated the zoning power to municipal governing
bodies. Hence, the Borough possessed the power to act on the
issue that was the subject of the public question.
Also, the MLUL does not provide an alternative mechanism to
ascertain public sentiment on zoning issues. We distinguish
Hackensack, supra, because the statute involved in that case,
R.S. 18:6-63, permitted the governing body to "call for a popular
referendum at any general, special or municipal election
confirming an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds" for
school construction. 63 N.J. Super. at 565. The statute
afforded an "alternative statutory mechanism for determining
voter sentiment which preclude[d] use of the non-binding
referendum under N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 by express declaration of that
provision." Id. at 568. In contrast, the MLUL does not provide
an "alternative statutory mechanism for determining voter
Protest referenda, as authorized by N.J.S.A. 40:55D-63, are
not votes by the electorate of a municipality within the meaning
of N.J.S.A. 19:37-1, but are expressions of opinion by a limited
group of affected property owners. Moreover, public hearings, as
useful as they are, do not necessarily measure the sentiment of
the entire community. More often, like protest referenda, they
provide an outlet for neighbors and others directly affected by a
Finally, we reject A&P's argument that the expression of
voter sentiment in a general vote contravenes the MLUL. The
design of the MLUL, which invites public participation at every
material step, see N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10 (requiring hearing for
applications for development and for adoption of master plan);
N.J.S.A. 40:49-2 (requiring public hearing at readings of zoning
ordinances), supports the conclusion that non-binding referenda
are permissible. One goal of the MLUL was to encourage public
involvement in land-use planning and development. See supra at
___ (slip op. at 6) (discussing Committee Statement). Nothing in
the MLUL suggests that the Legislature intended that punctilio
We conclude that the MLUL does not forbid voters from expressing their opinions on a proposed zoning amendment by
voting on a public question. Nothing in section 62.b or in
N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 precludes a governing body from measuring the
non-binding sentiment of the public. Non-binding referenda,
moreover, do not subvert the purpose of the MLUL. A
municipality must still conform, as the Borough conformed here,
to the procedural requirements of the MLUL. In the absence of an
express statutory provision to the contrary, we construe section
62.b as not prohibiting a non-binding referendum under N.J.S.A.
The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed.
SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
A- 112 September Term 1993
THE GREAT ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC
THE BOROUGH OF POINT PLEASANT,
M. DEAN HAINES, COUNTY CLERK
STEIN, J., dissenting.
The practice of submitting questions to the public in the
form of a non-binding referendum has obvious appeal. It allows a
municipality quickly to poll the public on a specific issue. It
also affords the voting public a sense of participation in
effects of arbitrariness and political influence in zoning
"Zoning is a separation of the municipality into districts, and the regulation of buildings and structures in the districts so created, in accordance with their construction and the nature and extent of their use." Mansfield & Swett, Inc. v. Town of West Orange, 120 N.J.L. 145, 149 (Sup. Ct. 1938). Zoning regulates "the type of building development [that] can take place on the land * * * ." Levin v. Township of Livingston, 35 N.J. 500, 506 (1961). Municipal planning, on the other hand, "is concerned with the interrelationships and organization of land uses, including not only the physical ways in which land is developed but the manner of its use and the existence of municipal facilities to facilitate such use." 1 Edward H. Ziegler, Jr., Rathkopf's The Law of Zoning and Planning § 1.05, at 1-49 (1994). Thus, zoning is the mechanism for the regulation
of development, whereas planning provides a context and guides
the manner in which that mechanism is to be applied. See ibid.
first zoning enabling statute, the Zoning Act of 1928, two years
prior to the State's first planning enabling legislation, the
Planning Act of 1930 (Planning Act). The Planning Act provided
for the creation of municipal planning boards authorized to "make
and adopt a master plan for the physical development of the
municipality," L. 1930, c. 235, § 5, and to make recommendations
to the local governing body regarding changes or additions to the
official map of the municipality, L. 1930, c. 235, § 7.
No doubt good housekeeping would be
served if a zoning ordinance followed and
implemented a master plan, but the history of
the subject dictated a different course. * *
* * * *
* * * Our own decisions emphasize that
[the function of a comprehensive plan] is to
prevent a capricious exercise of the
legislative power resulting in haphazard or
piecemeal zoning. Without venturing an exact
definition, it may be said for present
purposes that "plan" connotes an integrated
product of a rational process and
"comprehensive" requires something beyond a
piecemeal approach, both to be revealed by
the ordinance considered in relation to the
physical facts and the purposes authorized by
In Kozesnik, the Court stressed the importance of a rational and deliberative approach to zoning that would examine a zoning proposal in the context of related planning objectives. However, it stopped short of requiring that zoning changes conform to a
plan that would exist independently of the zoning ordinance
itself. Id. at 166.
Under the MLUL, the process by which a municipality enacts a zoning ordinance or a zoning amendment begins with the same procedure by which that municipality would adopt any other ordinance. See N.J.S.A. 40:49-2; William M. Cox, New Jersey
Zoning and Land Use Administration § 34-1, at 498 (1994).
However, additional requirements attend the adoption of zoning
ordinances and amendments. A zoning ordinance may be adopted
only after the planning board has adopted the land-use-plan and
housing-plan elements of a master plan. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62a.
Furthermore, to ensure that a proposed zoning amendment is
consistent with the master plan, the governing body must refer
the proposed amendment to the planning board for comment and
report. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-64, -26a.
can examine its future development and planning needs and can
make changes in the master plan to reflect those needs.
Similarly, in North Bergen Action Group v. Planning Board,
122 N.J. 567 (1991), we emphasized: "Because zoning restrictions are
enacted to further municipal planning and zoning objectives, it
is fundamental that resolutions granting variances undertake to
reconcile the deviation authorized by the Board with the
municipality's objectives in establishing the restriction." Id.
The provision in the MLUL, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62b (section 62b), that the Court interprets today is contained in the same statutory section that requires zoning changes or amendments to be "substantially consistent with" or "designed to effectuate" the land-use element of the master plan. See N.J.S.A. 40:55D-62a. The Court, however, ignores or overlooks the obvious significance of the placement of the anti-referendum provision within the same section requiring that zoning ordinances adhere to the master plan.
Section 62b states: "No zoning ordinance and no amendment or revision to any zoning ordinance shall be submitted to or adopted by initiative or referendum." The municipality argues that section 62b precludes the use of binding referenda but allows non-binding referenda as a means of polling the public on a proposed zoning change, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 19:37-1. The purpose of non-binding referenda "is to encourage citizen
interest and participation in municipal affairs." Borough of
Eatontown v. Danskin,
121 N.J. Super. 68, 76 (Law Div. 1972).
Furthermore, non-binding referenda are considered "so obviously
useful to those who are burdened with the duty of promoting the
public welfare that a court should interfere only where a misuse
is plain * * * ." Id. at 75. The process for presenting a
question to the public under N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 is straightforward.
The governing body of a municipality must adopt an ordinance or a
resolution requesting the county clerk to print on the ballots to
be used at the next general election "a certain proposition to be
formulated and expressed in the ordinance or resolution in
concise form." N.J.S.A. 19:37-1. The request must be filed no
later than seventy-four days prior to the election. Ibid.
The majority concludes that the plain language of section
62b demonstrates that the Legislature did not intend to bar the
submission of zoning ordinances or amendments to non-binding
referenda. However, a careful reading of that provision reveals
that the term "referendum" was intended to include both binding
and non-binding referenda.
* * * referendum." (Emphasis added.) Contrary to the majority's
understanding that section 62b is directed only at binding
referenda, because such referenda "review already-taken
governmental action and constitute final voter acceptance or
rejection of that action," ante at ___ (slip op. at 12), the
Legislature's use of the term "submitted" demonstrates that it
was not concerned solely with binding referenda. That the
Legislature chose to bar the submission, as well as the adoption,
of zoning proposals through referendum emphasizes the
Legislature's intention to insulate zoning ordinances or
amendments from either binding or non-binding expressions of
public opinion. Accordingly, by prohibiting the submission of
zoning proposals to the referendum process, the Legislature
effectively conveyed its intention to protect the carefully
established statutory-review process for zoning ordinances from
the influences of a non-binding public-opinion poll.
Board of Chosen Freeholders,
121 N.J. 255, 259 (1990) (describing
N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 as "the non-binding referendum law"); Board of
Chosen Freeholders v. Szaferman,
117 N.J. 94, passim (1989)
(describing question proposed for inclusion on ballot under
N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 as "referendum question"); see also Danskin,
supra, 121 N.J. Super. at 76 (describing question submitted under
N.J.S.A. 19:37-1 as "referendum"). The majority's legalistic
interpretation of the term "referendum" to include only binding
expressions of public opinion is unrealistically restrictive and
is contradicted by this Court's prior use and understanding of
master plan in place before adopting any new zoning ordinances.
In fact, the very section of the law that the Court today
construes to permit submission of zoning ordinances and
amendments to non-binding referenda is the same section that
requires that such ordinances and amendments be adopted in
accordance with the master plan. The Court's conclusion that the
Legislature simultaneously decided, in the same section of the
MLUL, to authorize submission of zoning amendments to public
referenda while inextricably linking the zoning function with
comprehensive planning is simply incongruous.
Today the Court interprets a provision of the MLUL in the
abstract, ignoring the long history of efforts to safeguard
zoning from haphazard or politically-motivated decisions, a
history to which this Court has contributed significantly. Were
we faithful to that history, we would reverse the judgment of the
Justice Handler joins in this dissent.
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