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3 N.J.A.R. 9

Pinnacle International Corporation v. Pinelands Commission
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Citation: 3 N.J.A.R. 9
Decision Date: 1980
Agency: PINELANDS COMMISSION
Synopsis: Pinnacle International Corporation sought to develop 1,025 acres of land located in the preservation area of the Pinelands as defined by the Pinelands Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 13:18A-1 et seq. The hearings, which were conducted prior to the development of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, were limited to a consideration of whether Pinnacle could establish the existence of an extraordinary hardship as required by N.J.S.A. 13:18A-13. Pinnacle argued that the four situations enumerated in the Interim Rules and Regulations for Approval of Applications (N.J.A.C. 7: IG-I. 1 et seq.) as constituting extraordinary hardøhips were merely illustrative of instances of hardship and were not meant to be exclusive definitions of extraordinary hardships. The administrative law judge determined that the four listed extraordinary hardship situations were merely illustrative and not exclusive since each applicant for approval is entitled to have his facts tested against the intent of the Legislature to see whether the circumstances presented do meet the type of concern that the Legislature had when it provided for extraordinary hardship situations. While the enumerated situations set forth in the Interim Rules would certainly serve as guidelines to the type of problem addressed, they could not be viewed rigidly as the sole situation in which a finding of extraordinary hardship could be made. As to the facts of the particular case, the administrative law judge concluded that none of the expenses incurred by Pinnacle, prior to the receipt of local approval for the project, would constitute an extraordinary hardship. While the Legislature intended to provide relief for property owners faced with financial hardship and an 'irretrievable loss of funds,' it was not the Legislature's intent that this relief take the form of an approval for construction based on extraordinary hardship. Planning expenses are excluded from the type of expenses which will be considered in determining an extraordinary hardship. Nor would a restriction against development cause an extraordinary hardship even when Pinnacle voluntarily submitted its total plan for approval where a large percentage of the project could have been built without approval. In addition, Pinnacle argued that certain actions of the State, in encouraging the project, were of such a nature as to require the imposition of the doctrine of estoppel against the Pinelands Commission and thus, prevent it from denying an approval merely because of the absence of an extraordinary hardship. The administrative law judge found that there was no evidence that any action of the State led Pinnacle in reasonable reliance to act to its detriment and thus, he concluded, that estoppel should not be invoked. Accordingly, the judge ordered that the application for development be denied. William Hyland, Jr., Esq., for Petitioner (Brandt, Haughey, Penberthy & Lewis, Attorneys) William H. Lorentz, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent (John J. Degnan, Attorney General of New Jersey, Attorney)