Neptune [NJ] officials need to proceed deliberately and conservatively in their planned revitalization of the Midtown area. Seizing property by eminent domain should be used only as a last resort -- and only to acquire vacant or abandoned properties for a well-defined public purpose.
At last week's Township Committee meeting, dozens of residents voiced their opposition to any forced seizure of property. Repeated assurances by Mayor Thomas Catley that the property would be used only for public purposes were mostly met with jeers.
The revitalization plan has some merit. On the portion of West Lake Avenue now under review, there are several empty lots and few occupied properties. Rehabilitating the area would increase property values for many in the surrounding community.
But existing property owners should not be forced to invest their own money in costly upgrades until the township has been able to stabilize the neighborhood. The township also should do everything it can to secure grant money and government funding sources for residential and commercial rehabilitation.
Most importantly, the committee must abide by earlier promises that only abandoned or boarded-up homes will be taken through eminent domain. If homeowners are willing to sell, they should be compensated at a rate that enables them to buy comparable housing elsewhere.
One resident said last week, "Nobody gave anybody in Neptune their property. They had to work for it." They deserve the utmost respect.
Asbury Park Press: www.app.com