Andrew Rubin, Esq.

Real estate disputes pit developers against neighbors

Real estate disputes over new developments in New Jersey can sometimes lead to civil litigation; particularly when the disputes cannot be resolved privately. During new construction, adjacent landowners occasionally seek to protect perceived infringement of their property rights. One area of frequent friction lies in storm water management. These types of real estate disputes pit the developer, who is usually looking for final zoning approval, against neighboring landowners.

While developers push for new construction, neighboring property owners usually seek to ensure that the displacement of storm water caused by the new buildings will not impact their own properties.

In some cases, neighboring property owners also strive to ensure water overflow will not infringe on any nearby watersheds. A watershed is generally considered to be the area of land that drains into a river, river system, or other body of water.

A long-running legal and administrative battle in Hamilton over watershed issues appears to have been resolved - finally. In 2005, a developer received preliminary approval to construct a three-building, 144-unit apartment complex. Concern centered over the effect of storm water run-off from the project on a nearby watershed. The watershed association sued to stop development after construction of the first building. The dispute, which languished for several years, has now been settled.

Based on a settlement assuring no negative infringement on watershed rights, the local zoning board granted the developer final approval for the unit already constructed and preliminary approval for the remaining two buildings. While the nearby watershed association is pleased with the resolution in this matter, they noted there are numerous developments across the state in noncompliance with local, state and federal storm water management laws. Concern was also voiced about the extraordinary length of time and effort that was required to resolve this disagreement, adding that "it shouldn't take this kind of Herculean effort."

Watchdog groups accuse the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of lax enforcement concerning storm water management issues. They say both the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJEPA) and the federal EPA must do more to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The laws and regulations are complicated and technical, but violations can lead to disastrous consequences for both the developer and nearby landowners. A New Jersey attorney experienced in handling civil litigation of real estate disputes may offer support and help develop a plan to achieve a successful solution.

Source: The New Jersey Local News, "Hamilton zoners resolve storm water dispute," Joshua Rosenau, Aug 11, 2011

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