The Salt & Light Company, Inc. v. Township Of Willingboro Zoning Board Of Adjustment: Variances For Beneficial Use
A recent case involving variances in Burlington County demonstrates that property owners may not always be granted a variance intended for beneficial use. In the case of The Salt & Light Company, Inc. v. Township of Willingboro Zoning Board of Adjustment, the plaintiff originally filed to have the denial of its variance overturned. The Salt & Light Company, Inc., sought to convert a residence to a three-family unit in order to provide transitional housing for the formerly homeless. The original home, which was already being used as transitional housing, has five bedrooms and one kitchen; the company proposed to make room for three kitchens and only four bedrooms. Both the exterior of the house and the number of occupants would remain the same. The plaintiff also applied for a use variance, a site plan waiver, and a parking variance for four parking spaces instead of six.
After the Willingboro Zoning Board denied the use variance and the Salt & Light Company filed its complaint, the court reversed the denial of the variance and on remand, the defendant denied the parking variance and site plan waiver. In the court’s opinion, “the inherently beneficial use of providing transitional housing was outweighed by the detrimental effect of constructing a two-family home and an area zoned exclusively for single-family residences.”
Upon appealing the case, the plaintiff argued that the court did not apply the “four-step test” established by the case of Sica v. Board of Adjustment. To determine whether or not a variance would cause “detriment to the public good,” a court must (1) identify the public interest in question, (2) determine the negative effects of the variance, (3) reduce the effects by imposing conditions for the variance, and (4) weighing positive and negative effects to determine if the variance would cause severe detriment to the public good.
While The Salt & Light Company argued that the proposed variance is “inherently beneficial,” the court ultimately decided on July 2, 2013, that the variance would not be granted. In this instance, the approval of the variance “would substantially impair the zoning plan which was intended for single-family homes.” This decision is somewhat surprising given the difference that inherently beneficial uses have enjoyed over the years. As a result, it is clear that not all use variances with good intentions will be granted, especially if it threatens the stability of the zoning plan of a residential area. Going forward, beneficial planning testimony should be offered by inherently beneficial applicants addressing this issue.