Sunday, May 07, 2006

Welcome to Jersey - The Eminent Domain State

From the Asbury Park Press:

Eminent domain raw deal for property owners

"New Jersey has 1,000 redevelopment projects planned or under way. The deck is stacked against the residential property owner, the small business owner, and even industry. If our politicians are not serious about reform, we might as well change our license plates to read "The State of Eminent Domain."

Current New Jersey eminent domain law is grounded in the New Jersey Constitution, the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, the Local Redevelopment Housing Law and the Relocation Assistance Act and its regulations. New Jersey needs an immediate Eminent Domain Revision Committee, a bipartisan effort including representatives of the judiciary, academia, property owners and condemning authorities. This panel should conduct a comprehensive review of the laws with an eye toward recommending to both the Legislature and the governor sweeping changes in the laws governing eminent domain.

During oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kelo case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, "Blight is in the eye of the beholder."

"Blight" does not exist in the U.S. Constitution, but it appears in the New Jersey Constitution in Article VIII, Section three, which links blight with a public use. The definition of blight was expanded by the Legislature, approved by the courts and is now synonymous with "an area in need of redevelopment." It would not be so easy to seize property if the definition were not so broad.
As reported in the Asbury Park Press, a poll of 800 people conducted by Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey newspapers last September revealed that 81 percent of people aware of eminent domain issues believe private developers benefit more from eminent domain than the municipalities. Looking at the enormous profits the developers stand to gain at the expense of senior citizens and families in Long Branch, the concept of public use remains questionable.

The Supreme Court in the Kelo decision gave us economic benefit as public use when it affirmed New London, Conn.'s authority to take the petitioners' properties. But Justice John Paul Stevens also said, "We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power. Indeed, many states already impose "public use' requirements that are stricter than the federal baseline. The necessity and wisdom of using eminent domain to promote economic development are certainly matters of legitimate public debate.""


Blogger grim said...

From the Courier News:

What is public right to private property?

In SOUTH BOUND BROOK, officials say that county sheriff's officers can post the properties of the Fanaro family at any time, giving them 10 days to vacate. Several appeals filed by the Fanaros to county and appellate courts have been denied.

In READINGTON, voters on May 16 will consider a $22 million bond ordinance township officials say is needed to further preservation negotiations with owners of Solberg Airport.

IN SOMERVILLE, officials are nearing the point of using eminent domain to condemn a few holdout businesses being displaced from the Downtown Somerville Shopping Center. The site is slated to be redeveloped with a mixed use of retail and residential.

IN BOUND BROOK, a designated redevelopment zone is large in scale, encompassing much of the borough's downtown. A variety of retail, office, residential and parking structures have been discussed to revitalize Bound Brook and provide much-needed ratables.

IN DUNELLEN, officials unveiled a plan to redevelop 23 acres around the NJ Transit train station on South Washington Avenue. Developer Kaplan Companies of Highland Park is already negotiating with business owners -- specifically The Provident Bank and Power Gas Station on Route 28 and World Gym Fitness Center on South Washington Avenue.

IN FRANKLIN, Somerset County, plans by developer Jack Morris' plans to build a Home Depot and 864 houses between Bennetts Lane and Veronica Avenue has drawn heavy opposition from homeowners who argue that it will destroy the quality of life in the town.

IN HIGH BRIDGE, borough officials voted unanimously in September 2005 to use eminent domain to condemn a portion of Pat Catanzareti's property on Dewey Avenue, hoping to end a 20-year legal battle.

IN PISCATAWAY, the town took the Halper property, a 75-acre parcel, to put an arboretum, gazebos, dog park, tree nurseries and jogging and bike paths on the former farm.

IN PLAINFIELD, there are 13 different redevelopment plans or proposals -- the largest being the Downtown Station South concept. The concept calls for the construction of a "transit village" with shops and condominiums around the North Avenue train station.

5/07/2006 06:26:00 AM  
Blogger Metroplexual said...

A few things on eminent domain. It is the only way to undo what has been done. It is the "ctrl alt del" for land development. It has it's place but many Municipalities abuse it.

SOUTH BOUND BROOK sounds like abuse.

READINGTON is actually a transportation related issue. small airports in NJ are mostly privately held and are disappering at a rate of 1 per year there are now less than 50 in the state, preserving them is critical.

SOMERVILLE here is where ED is actually been used historically. BYW the same thing is happening in Morristown along Speedwell.

FRANKLIN, It would be a shame to further congest that part of the state. (I used to work on Veronica)

PISCATAWAY, the farm was a dump and a real eyesore. And didn't the guy make payoffs to some politicians or something a few years back.

PLAINFIELD, again this is what ED is for. Plainfield has long needed redevelopment.

The other ED's I know very little about and little detail is provided here. NJ is not alone in the use but I would say we seem to be
heavy abusers of it. BUt again I will say it isn't because of too much government but too many. It is all about the ratables chase and every older municipality has a redevelopment plan in the works.

"ctrl alt del"

5/07/2006 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

It has NO place. Ever. To have a public good that trumps private ownership is tyranny of the majority.

How abhorrent. I jsut read an article about my former area in CA citing eminent domain to buy property BACK from Walmart because the townsfolk and unions don't like them and don't want the competition Walamrt brings. So they're buying back the property through ED, and of course pissing away taxpayer dollars as Walmart fights them in court.

5/07/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Metroplexual said...

As New Jersey becomes built out especially in the core areas, you will find it employed more and more.

Michele, would you support widening of highways? ED is necessary for right of way acquisition.

If ED is never allowed nothing gets done!

5/07/2006 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I have no problem with states acquiring land for projects in a voluntary manner, ie paying landowners big bucks to acquire their property for road widening, bridges, etc. But to force people to sell, even at "market rate", is intrinsically wrong. If the state or township ever wanted to buy frontage in front of my house to widen the road, the price would have to be astronomically high before I would even consider it as the overall negative externality to me is way beyond the value of the property.

ED is one of those extremely slippery slopes and we're currently seeing just how steep it is. It becomes an additional tax grab, taking property from owners who don't contribute as much to the system as a newly developed project would. For roads, ED is an easy out that reduces thoughts about rail and other possibile alternative methods of transport beyond cars.

I believe that ED is always philosophically wrong. That doesn't mean that society doesn't benefit from it, but I feel it has no moral ground to stand on.

Instead of widening roadways, what about decentralizing business locations more? I think you mentioned that you're a planner so I'd be interested in your reply quite a bit. For example, instead of everything and its brother being in East Hanover, aren't there locations in other parts of Morris County that could be home to office/industrial parks that would be the "reverse commute"? Of course, Highlands probably did away with that idea...

5/07/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Metroplexual said...

Michelle said...

"I have no problem with states acquiring land for projects in a voluntary manner, ie paying landowners big bucks to acquire their property for road widening, bridges, etc. But to force people to sell, even at "market rate", is intrinsically wrong."

Every time a project is done i.e. highways market rate is always the compensation. that is what is prescribed constitutionally.

And as for the voluntary manner, well the interstate system wouldn't be here.

Morris County is pretty much built out. Here is where redevelopment would come in but...

As for the reverse commute, ever look at the west bound I-80 or I-78 in the morning? Eastern PA is booming and will suck alot of the jobs out of NNJ. They have a better business climate, quality of life, taxes etc. Look at the plates on the highways and count the PA plates. Having worked as a consultant for corporate site location I can tell you that for back offices PA is game.

As for decentralizing business locations, I can recommend a book "Edgeless Cities". It describes how that has already happened, and the data is based on the early nineties.
I must say it is authored by my brother-in-law, Robert Lang (professor Virginia Tech) but he is nonetheless the expert on the topic among others.

5/07/2006 07:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Thanks for the great post, MP. The book looks fascinating; just read the blurb on amazon and put in my cart for future ordering (gotta qualify for that free shipping, of course).

I'll allow, after just having done some further reading on the subject, that there may be times when ED is unavoidable (although it doesn't make it philosophically correct; so much for my idealism). But increasing ratables shouldn't qualify as public good, no more than income tax increases should.

It seems that not a single one of the above instances could be classified as being in the same caliber of public interest as infrastructure with the exception of the airport; from the blurb it looks like it's still negotiations and not forceable ED.

Interesting to do more reading (and oh yeah, get to work).

5/08/2006 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger Metroplexual said...

Michelle said...

"But increasing ratables shouldn't qualify as public good, no more than income tax increases should."

I completely agree. But Home rule has put municipalities in the ratables chase and they will use any method they can to up them. Often at the expense of neighboring towns. Just bad planning, but then again regional planning is just about illegal in NJ.

5/08/2006 07:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time a project is done i.e. highways market rate is always the compensation. that is what is prescribed constitutionally.

It may be constitutional but it's still theft.

The government, if it wishes to seize land, should offer to relocate the landowner to land of equivalent or better size, services and value, and should have to lift and move the house or build an equivalent or better one in the new location. Likewise any developer who wishes to use ED.

5/08/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggestion for the new state slogan:

"New Jersey, it's eminently clear to everyone"

5/08/2006 01:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sick of this argument, I'm all for eminent domain when used properly. As far as I'm concerned they should use it in Camden, and Irvington basically really nasty places that since they have not managed to get a handle on crime issues and poverty. Move everyone out, the situation benefits no one the residents included. Why should land in a good location be without development and be under utilized. Removing those areas will make things better for many people. As will smaller projects such as a downtown area in Somerville or a transit village in Plainfield. Although certain people, cough Jack Morris cough should be not be involved in eminent domain given the fact that they are under inverstigation and have all kinds of shady gov't contacts.

So there we have it the big issue is the corruption at the government level, because for the most part ED is good.

5/08/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Metroplexual said...

It has it's place. But I agree it is being abused. There is a term used in planning and in legal circles called "a taking". It is when land is devalued or confiscated without due compensation. If you want a great example of this it was the "Highlands" legislation. It was ED without any compensation imo.

5/08/2006 03:09:00 PM  
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