Zoning and Land Use Law in New Jersey

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Introduction to Variances and NJ Zoning Laws

New Jersey law allows every municipality in the state to adopt building and land use laws within their municipal boundary lines and all property owners must abide by these laws. These local laws are often referred to as municipal zoning ordinances.  I’m going to teach you about these laws and the laws governing variances on this page.

When attempting to subdivide land, develop property, establish a business, build a commercial building or simply add an addition to one’s house, the owner may be required to apply for what is known as a “variance” with the Municipal Planning Board or Zoning Board if the land, structure, or proposed use of the property does not conform to the zoning ordinances of the municipality.

Applying for a variance can be a stressful, confusing process. Applicants who are unaware of how the process works often have their applications denied and are told they cannot build as desired. This occurs not because the owner is legally forbidden from using their property the way they want, but because they were unfamiliar with local zoning laws and what they needed to do to obtain a variance prior to building their structure or profitably using their property.

Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, PC recently won a significant land use victory before Judge Hurley of the Middlesex County Superior Court wherein the Court reversed the granting of a use variance and site plan approval to the owner and operator of a significant commercial business adjacent to Mr. Niemann’s residential client. It is expected that the landowner will appeal Judge Hurley’s decision to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. Mr. Niemann wishes to acknowledge the excellent assistance of Senior Associate Bonnie Wright, Esq.


First of all, I just wanted to thank you so much for the time, and most of all, for the knowledge, concern and support you so generously gave me during our meeting on May 26, 2010. I walked out of your office feeling much more confident and very relieved. I’m not sure how you will take this, but you are an extraordinary human being and the antithesis of the stereotypical lawyer. A usually skeptical person, I trusted you from the moment I shook your hand! In addition, every member of your staff with whom I came in contact with was courteous, respectful, and helpful. You and your partner have created a very special environment, and you should be commended.

– Marybeth Kappenberg, Briarwood, NY


I own several small businesses. I’m good at what I do but legal matters and dealing with lawyers and legal issues is stressful. I called Fredrick P. Niemann and have developed a great relationship with his lawyers and staff. They have reviewed my leases, negotiated the buyout of my former business partner, handled land use problems in a neighboring county and generally have really been there for me. I really like them personally and professionally. If you are a small business owner, give them a call.

– Mike Halsey, Middletown, NJ

Understanding the Basics of NJ Zoning Laws

In New Jersey there are two main types of variances. A “C” variance relates to problems with the shape and dimension of the property that makes it non-conforming with current zoning laws. A “C” Variance is often called a setback variance which when granted allows a property owner to build a house or structure closer to the property boundary line than the municipal ordinance allows.  I’ll discuss “C” variances in greater depth later on this site.

A “D” variance (often called a use variance) is different. It relates mainly to permissible uses of property. An example of a use variance is when someone wants to place an office building in a section of town which is zoned strictly for single family houses and residential use.  A use variance is difficult to obtain and confusing to understand but I’ll do my best to explain it in simple English later on in this site.

In deciding whether to grand or deny a variance application, a zoning board must apply specific legal criteria to each case depending upon which variance an applicant is applying for. An applicant must produce evidence known as “positive criteria” and “negative criteria”. Such criteria is intended to show the board that the variance meets the specific requirements of New Jersey law justifying the granting of a variance. A variance will not be granted by a zoning board unless the applicant is able to demonstrate by way of evidence that the specific criteria required by law applies to their property. Many times, property owners don’t know this when applying for a variance and have their application denied because of a lack of evidence to support the variance.

As the applicant, the burden of proof is on you to prove that sufficient legal criteria exists to support your application. Therefore, it is important that you know the law on zoning and what your Municipal Board is looking for to approve your application.

Fredrick P. Niemann and the attorneys at Hanlon Niemann & Wright have appeared before countless planning boards and zoning boards throughout New Jersey to present applications for their clients. They have extensive knowledge of the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Act and the legal criteria that must be satisfied, to obtain a successful variance. An experienced attorney can be the difference between obtaining the variance you need to legally build on your property or losing out on your application over technicalities because you were unfamiliar with New Jersey’s complex zoning and land use laws.

If you are seeking a variance or need legal advice on any aspect of New Jersey’s zoning and land use laws,

Fredrick P. Niemann Esq.

please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq., an experienced, knowledgeable zoning land use \attorney. He can be reached at our toll free number, (855) 376-5291 or by email at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.

He will be able to walk you through the process in a clear and understandable way.


Written by New Jersey Zoning Law Attorney Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq.