Developer Has Duty to Maintain and Remove Snow From Road Not Dedicated to Municipality

White Tp. v. Castle Ridge Development Corp., 419 N.J. Super. 68 (App. Div. 2011).  A developer, Castle Ridge, got approval to build a fifteen-lot subdivision.  A developer’s agreement that Castle Ridge signed with the Township of White stated that the Township had the right, but not the obligation, to maintain the road in the proposed development, and that if Castle Ridge or the owner did not make repairs within a reasonable time, the Township could have the work done and charge Castle Ridge or the owner for the costs incurred.  The agreement did not expressly say that Castle Ridge had the obligation to perform the work.

Castle Ridge built on and sold eight of the lots, but then ran into financial trouble.  At first, Castle Ridge maintained the road, including clearing snow and ice.  Later, Castle Ridge stopped doing that.  The Township stepped in and did the snow clearance.  Meanwhile, there were problems with the road, including defective pavement and incomplete work.  Castle Ridge advised the Township that Castle Ridge would no longer be responsible for maintenance.  The Township sued and won a judgment for the cost of the snow clearing, a declaration that Castle Ridge had responsibility for maintenance, and an award of attorneys’ fees.  Castle Ridge appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed in an opinion by Judge Parrillo. 

There were three issues on appeal.  First, Castle Ridge claimed that because the developer’s agreement did not expressly make Castle Ridge responsible for maintenance, it did not have that duty.  The Appellate Division disagreed.  “[T]he only fair and reasonable implication” from the contract was that Castle Ridge was responsible for maintenance.

Second, Castle Ridge argued that clearing snow and ice was not “maintenance” under the developer’s agreement.  The trial court had cited dictionary definitions of “maintenance” that included keeping property “unimpaired[, …] operating and productive.”  Judge Parrillo agreed that, under these definitions, snow and ice clearance was “inherently include[d].”  He also cited cases in other contexts where “maintenance” was found to include removal of snow and ice, as well as the fact that Castle Ridge had cleared snow and ice for a time, thus confirming by its conduct that it had that duty under the developer’s agreement.  

Finally, Castle Ridge asserted that it is against public policy for a municipality to impose a maintenance obligation on a developer while, at the same time, collecting property taxes on completed lots.  The Appellate Division again disagreed.  Only in cases involving a “private community” under N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.3 , or a dedicated and accepted street, must a municipality maintain or reimburse a private party for maintaining a road.  Neither situation was present here.