Yates Real Estate, Inc. v. Plainfield Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, Civ. No. 18-12700-KM-CLW

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Citation404 F.Supp.3d 889
Docket NumberCiv. No. 18-12700-KM-CLW
Parties YATES REAL ESTATE, INC.; Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc.; and John and Jane Doe, Plaintiffs, v. PLAINFIELD ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT; City of Plainfield, Defendants.
Decision Date30 July 2019

404 F.Supp.3d 889

YATES REAL ESTATE, INC.; Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc.; and John and Jane Doe, Plaintiffs,
v.
PLAINFIELD ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT; City of Plainfield, Defendants.

Civ. No. 18-12700-KM-CLW

United States District Court, D. New Jersey.

Signed July 30, 2019
Filed July 31, 2019


404 F.Supp.3d 896

Steven C. Rother, Post, Polak, Goodsell, MacNeil, & Strauchler, P.A., Roseland, NJ, for Plaintiffs.

Peter Anthony Vignuolo, Clarkin & Vignuolo, P.C., Milltown, NJ, John F. Gillick, Rainone Coughlin Minchello, LLC, Iselin, NJ, for Defendants.

KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:

This matter comes before the Court on a motion for a preliminary injunction (DE 8) brought by the plaintiffs, Yates Real Estate, Inc. ("Yates RE"), and Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc. ("Yates House"). (I will distinguish between the plaintiffs as necessary, but otherwise refer to them collectively as "Yates.") Defendants Plainfield Zoning Board of Adjustment ("Zoning Board") and the City of Plainfield ("City") oppose the plaintiffs' application. (DE 14).

In 2017, Yates filed an application with the Zoning Board for thirty-eight variances and thirty-three waivers to permit him to develop a 25-unit apartment complex in the City's Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. To do so, Yates required use, density, height, and bulk variances, as well as design waivers. Yates purchased the property in 2012, knowing that the property was in the historic district and was zoned for residential use.

Between October 4, 2017 and June 6, 2018, the Zoning Board held six days of hearings on Yates's application. It was midway through the hearing that Yates first agreed to deed-restrict the property to military veterans. Yates proffered that homeless veterans frequently suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"), but never agreed to confine residency to veterans with PTSD. Yates argued, however, that because the building was likely to service some PTSD sufferers, several federal civil rights statutes mandated that Yates's application be granted as a reasonable accommodation.

By way of resolution dated August 1, 2018, the Zoning Board denied the application. It found that the requested variances would violate not only historic-preservation provisions as such, but also basic regulations

404 F.Supp.3d 897

(e.g. , minimum square footage of units, storage space, parking) that would apply generally to any apartment building.

On August 13, 2018, Yates filed this action against the Zoning Board and City, alleging that the denial of its application violated (1) the Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 ("FHAA"); (2) the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); (3) the Rehabilitation Act; and (4) the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law ("MLUL"). For current purposes, the analysis would be similar under any of the three federal statutes.

Now before the Court is the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Yates requests that this Court effectively grant its zoning application so that permits can be issued and renovations can begin at the subject property. (DE 8). For the reasons stated in this Opinion, the motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.

I. Background1

A. Yates's Application before the Zoning Board

Yates RE is a developer which seeks to develop a piece of property located at 808-814 Central Avenue in the City of Plainfield. (Compl, Ex. I, ¶1 (City of Plainfield, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Resolution of Findings and Conclusions, dated August 1, 2018 (hereinafter "Resolution") ) ). Tax records state that Yates RE purchased the property on July 24, 2012 for $100,000, although Yates RE also submitted evidence that it purchased the property for $300,000. (Resolution ¶4; DE 24-26, at 7). Yates RE has agreed to lease the property to Yates House, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, for the sum of $1.00 per year. (Resolution ¶60; Compl ¶10).

The property lot is 30,089 square feet, and the proposed building would contain 14,065 square feet. (DE 24-5). It contains a vacant three-story dwelling with a two-story addition. (Resolution ¶2). The property is located within the City's Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. Apartment buildings are not a permitted use within that district. (Resolution ¶3). In 1981, the City designated this area as a historic district, and it was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1985. (Resolution Conclusions at 49, ¶11).2 The zoning was downsized to permit two units per acre in order to protect the historic nature of the area. (Resolution ¶228). The zone permits one- or two-family residential uses, as well as bed-and-breakfast inns. (DE 1-2, at 57).3

404 F.Supp.3d 898

In 2017, Yates filed an application with the Zoning Board for a series of variances so that the property could be renovated into an apartment building. (Resolution ¶¶5, 15; 1T3:4-8). Yates wants to build a three-story addition to the rear of the vacant three-story building, and to convert the building to twenty-five apartments. (Id. ).

Yates's application included a request for thirty-eight variances and thirty-three waivers. (1T32:17-20). The requested variances in Yates's application before the Board included the following: (1) use variance under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:55D-70(d)(1) to allow for the construction of an apartment building in the zone; (2) density variance under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:55D-70(d)(5) to allow for 36.2 units per acre, instead of two; (3) height variance under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:55D-70(d) from the statutory maximum of thirty-five feet to forty-one feet; (4) bulk variances under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40:55D-70(c) relating to maximum building and lot coverage; and (5) a series of variances to maintain the current nonconforming conditions related to the lot area, width, frontage, and side-yard setback. (Resolution ¶¶5-8).

Yates also sought a series of supplemental zone variances and design waivers. (Resolution ¶9(A)-(W)). The most contested aspect of this part of the application concerned the size of the proposed units. Studio apartments are required to be a minimum 500 square feet; twenty-one or twenty-two of the 25 proposed units, however, are less than 500 square feet. The smallest unit is 256 square feet. (Resolution ¶9(M); 3T101:5-9, 105:2-5; 4T:18:7-17; DE 24-5; DE 24-18).4

Additionally, part of this application sought relief from the Residential Site Improvement Standards ("RSIS"), which requires 1.8 parking spaces per one-bedroom apartment. (Id. ; 4T55:24-25). Forty-five parking spaces would be required for a twenty-five-unit apartment, but only eleven spaces were proposed. (Resolution ¶9(K); 4T53:24-4, 56:13-17). Finally, although RSIS requires each unit to have 350 cubic feet of associated storage space, none of the proposed units offer any storage space. (Resolution ¶9(Q); 3T110:20-111:4).

B. Hearings before the Zoning Board

The Board held hearings on Yates's application on six dates: October 4, 2017; November 1, 2017; December 6, 2017; April 11, 2018; May 2, 2018; and June 6, 2018. (See Resolution). Yates presented the testimony of Yates's principal, Andre Yates; David Cathcart, a clinician5 specializing in the treatment of PTSD; Emerson Crooks, a veteran; David Pearson, the Assistant Director of Catholic Charities and Support Services for Veteran Families; Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, the developer and

404 F.Supp.3d 899

operator of a homeless veteran facility in Highland Park, New Jersey; Anthony Flax, the CEO of Yates House; Dr. Sean R. Evers, Ph.D.; William Doran, RA, the architect of the proposed property; Daniel Doran, P.E.; Rhonda Coe, an affordable housing expert; and John Leoncavallo, a professional planner. (Resolution ¶¶12, 15, 59-70, 82-123, 129, 140, 153, 181). William Michelson, the Chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission ("HPC"), and several members of the public also testified. (Resolution ¶¶224-30).

Mr. Yates indicated that the purpose of the property was "to create permanent housing for military veterans in Union County." (1T15:22-16:1). In a subsequent hearing date, he reconfirmed that the criteria for placement in the facility would be that the individual is a veteran. (2T50:19-23). Flax testified that "the general profile" of the tenants would be male and female veterans in their twenties to middle-aged, some of whom would be coming to the facility directly from the service, shelters, or temporary housing. (2T10:16-21).

The restriction of occupancy to veterans, or homeless veterans, or veterans with PTSD, was an evolving and somewhat elusive concept. At one point, the attorney for Yates indicated that Yates was considering limiting the occupancy of the project to veterans, but that Yates "was not yet willing to agree to such a limitation." (Resolution ¶78; 2T85:16-86:11 (emphasis added)). In response to a concern raised by a member of the public, Mr. Vignuolo, a board member, engaged in the following exchange with Yates's attorney:

MR. VIGNUOLO: Mr. Rother, if I may, would the applicant be amenable to a condition of any approval that the use is limited to housing for veterans, as opposed to –

MR.
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