Recently, in the matter of Schmidhausler v. Planning Board of Borough of Lake Como, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court addressed, among other issues, what the remedy for an aggrieved party should be when a municipal board renders a decision on an application for development under the Municipal Land Use Law that is tainted by the failure of one of its members to read or listen to the testimony presented on the matter during a prior meeting in violation of N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10.2. In this case, the planning board voted to approve an application for a subdivision with variance relief by a narrow one-vote margin. The plaintiffs argued that the remedy in such instance should be the striking of the disobedient board member’s vote. The Appellate Division, however, was not persuaded by plaintiffs’ suggestion, especially here, where such action “would result in a tie vote and . . . an automatic denial of the application.” Instead, the Court opted to remand the matter to the planning board for another round of deliberation and a new vote after “those who had not attended one or all of the hearings in this matter review the transcript of any meeting or meetings that they may have missed[ and] certify they have done so[.]” According to the Court, this course of action was preferable to “denying the application outright or putting all of the parties to the cost and expense of an entire new hearing[.]”
By this case, the Appellate Division has provided a clear message to all parties involved in the prosecution and disposition of applications for development under the MLUL that a failure on the part of municipal board members to abide by N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10.2 – while not triggering a new hearing – will likely cause the board’s decision to be deliberated and voted on anew. The Appellate Division’s decision in Schmidhausler v. Planning Board of Borough of Lake Como may be viewed on WestLaw at 2009 WL 1491306 (N.J.Super. A.D.) and has been approved for publication.