New Jersey’s Zoning Amendment

Alex Costin


A half century before the New Jersey Supreme Court endorsed inclusionary zoning in Southern Burlington N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Township, the state struggled to secure basic municipal zoning. While New Jersey’s political elite embraced zoning in the 1910s and 20s to weather a period of tremendous growth and change, a disapproving judiciary steadfastly maintained that the practice violated basic property rights. Hundreds of state court decisions in the 1920s held zoning ordinances unconstitutional. Finally, the people of New Jersey in 1927 overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the state constitution overruling those decisions and affirming zoning as a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power. This essay traces those uncertain early years of zoning in New Jersey. The amendment was not the result of a state monolithically coming to its senses. Instead, its passage documents a decade-long struggle played out not only in the courts and legislature but also in the press and the town meeting.

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