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Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs-Respondents, the Southern Burlington County NAACP among others (Plaintiffs), were composed of poor, minority citizens who sought decent, low to moderate income housing and either lived in substandard housing or were forced to move elsewhere due to the absence of suitable housing. The Plaintiffs have argued that the Defendant-Appellant, the Township of Mount Laurel (Defendant), has effectively excluded them from the municipality through its land use regulations.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Zoning as an action under the police power must promote the general welfare and cannot be motivated by other considerations such as minimizing the local property tax rate.

    Facts. Attached townhouses, mobile homes, and apartments are not allowed anywhere in the Defendant town under the zoning ordinance. All four residential zones provided in the town’s zoning ordinance, only permit one house per lot of single family, detached dwellings. The Court determined that the restriction to single family dwellings realistically only provides housing options for those with “at least middle income.” The record substantiated that Defendant had an affirmatively and historically developed a policy to control development density and attract selective growth. The finances had been expended solely for the benefit of upper and middle income people.

    Issue. Whether a municipality may validly by land use regulation make it physically and economically impossible to provide low and moderate-income housing and thereby exclude people of limited income and resources?

    Held. A municipality must by its land use regulation create an appropriate variety and choice of housing. Actions under the police power are affirmatively required to promote general welfare. Conversely, the zoning enactment is contrary to the general welfare and is invalid. A municipality “must zone for the welfare of the people and not for the benefit of the local tax rate.”

    Discussion. There exists an affirmative duty not to foreclose classes of people seeking low to moderate-income housing. The court found that the reason for the Defendant’s policy of land use regulation was to keep down local taxes on property without regard for considerations related to people, since New Jersey’s tax structure imposes educational costs on local real estate. The court felt that the regulations were designed to limit the number of school children and thus lower the tax rate.
    Remedy was in the hands of the municipality who should have the “first full opportunity” to perform the function of enacting appropriate land use regulation that would provide for low and moderate income housing of without judicial supervision. Further action could be taken if the municipality failed to meet its affirmative dut


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