8/14/2004

Michigan Ruling Gives Haddon Township NJ Property Owners Hope

By Dan Keashen

Poletown was a small neighborhood inside the city of Detroit with a bakery, night watch, and numerous churches.

This close knit community was involved in a historic Michigan state court ruling in 1981 on eminent domain. The ruling set the precedent for redevelopment and public consumption of private land across the United States to benefit the overall community.

After this court ruling 1,000 residents and 600 businesses were bought out and relocated.

The Poletown land was given over to private developers in order to build a large General Motors auto plant through the acquisition of private land through eminent domain.

Since the infamous ruling every neighborhood that has been faced with the prospect of redevelopment, including Haddon Township, has been susceptible to the possibility of losing private property under the guise of benefiting the community.

On July 30 in an historic case the Michigan Supreme Court over-turned the Poletown private property precedent. In a unanimous decision for County of Wayne v. Hathcock, the Court decisively rejected the notion that "a private entity's pursuit of profit was a 'public use' for constitutional taking purposes simply because one entity's profit maximization contributed to the health of the general economy."

According to sources, this means that private business and land owners in Haddon Township stand to have a renewed chance against what was looked at as an insurmountable opponent against the impending eminent domain.

The court called Poletown a "radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles."

"We overruled Poletown," the court wrote, "in order to vindicate our constitution, protect the people's property rights and preserve the legitimacy of the judicial branch as the expositor, not creator, of fundamental law."

This situation is not unique to Haddon Township; in fact the use of eminent domain for private development has blossomed into common practice throughout the United States.

According to Public Power, Private Gain, authored by David Berliner, there were 10,000 properties either taken or threatened with eminent domain for private parties in the U.S. between 1998 and 2002.

State supreme courts from Nevada to Connecticut have been dependent on the Poletown decision when supporting the condemnation of land for private parties.

Jim Rhoads the owner of the building that houses Loose Cuts on Haddon Avenue commented on his legal battles and alleged chicanery that the township has undertaken in redevelopment.

"I'm a real estate investor and the mayor invited me into town to check out this property in July of 2003, on Haddon Avenue.

"A few months later I found out my property fell within this new redevelopment zone that he [Mayor James Park Jr.] created with the developer," said Rhoads.

The only way for Rhoads to fight back eminent domain and to keep his property was to file a lawsuit. Rhoads and several other business owners have followed suit in order to hold on to their property.

"It has just turned into a mess and if I had full disclosure to begin with I probably wouldn't have bought this property.

"I'm in this for the long haul and I'm committed to seeing that the right thing will be done in court...I've already spent thousands of dollars in fees for lawyers," said Rhoads.

The Michigan ruling gave him hope that things can be settled by the courts.

Jim Rhoads has rented out his property to a small business owner Linda Ma-tousch-Rau who runs the high-end floral shop, Loose Cuts.

Rau and her husband David are extremely upset about their shop's property prospects in the current shadow of eminent domain.

"It's a sad scenario when a person opens a business only to realize that wealthy developers can come in and ruin the character of small town America with oversized and under planned ideas. Haddon Township will no longer be a town, just buildings," said Linda Matousch-Rau.

The Rau's do not want to lose their shop to a developer that sources say is not working in the community's best interest.

Using eminent domain to steal a person's property solely for the economic gain of another is wrong. Haddon Township does not need the Fieldstone project as it is clearly nothing more than an economic gain for one private developer and a personal loss to a dozen existing property owners.," said David Rau.

"Shame on our public officials for using eminent domain threats and brown-field scares to force the Fieldstone apartment project to the table," he added.

The County of Wayne vs. Hathcock decision passed down from the Michigan Supreme Court now has a direct correlation to Haddon Township.

This Court ruling has overturned an earlier precedent that gives hope to the dozen private business owners and residents that are residing in the wake of a controversial redevelopment decision in the township.

The war on private property rights is being fought for across the country and now a battle will be waged locally.



The Haddon Herald website: www.haddonherald.com
Eminent Domain