Eminent domain used — Bridgeton (NJ) News, 10/20/04

By Jaime Marine

[Millville NJ] City commissioners approved an ordinance Tuesday night which would authorize the condemnation of eight parcels along Route 47 should an agreement not be reached between property owners and developers of a proposed shopping mall.

"Do I feel good about eminent domain? Absolutely not," Mayor Jim Quinn said. "Do I hope we have to do it? I hope we never have to do it."

The unanimous decision to approve the condemnation ordinance came after various individuals spoke during a public hearing.

While Dr. Harold Blumenthal of the Animal Hospital of Millville has settled with the developers, he took the time to address the commission and share his thoughts on the ordinance.

"Development happens all over the country, every single day, with lands that are purchased voluntarily," he said. "That is the way our nation was built and what our constitution requires.

"You ask people to give up their property so someone else can make a profit and that is a bad policy. It is not how government should behave toward its people."

Blumenthal said he felt like the city was forcing him to settle.

"The city used the threat of eminent domain to force me to make a deal, even if I didn't want to," he said.

Attorney Gary Wodlinger, council for developer, Goodman Properties, said his clients have only been making fair deals and that all but two owners have come to some sort of settlement with the company.

"We are going to continue (discussions) in an attempt to reach a resolution with them," he said. "I would hope we could reach that conclusion. However, only time will tell."

Wodlinger declined to say which two property owners had not reached a settlement with the company.

During the public hearing, Wodlinger also made it clear that the condemnation of residential properties was never part of their plan or this ordinance.

"No homeowner has been targeted by the city and the suggestion of that is factually inaccurate and not applicable to this project or any I'm aware of this city commission doing in (regards to) eminent domain or economic development," he said. "These are business in an area that the city – after hearings – determined was blighted and was in need of redevelopment."

If this parcel of land were not available, Wodlinger told the officials the businesses would go to other communities because there would be nowhere else for them.

"If they were not going to come here, they would go to a neighboring community and bring the business, ratables and taxes elsewhere," he said. "If the public could see the negotiated deals, compensation for the property owners and the economic value they are getting for their property, they would know no one has been taken advantage of anywhere."

Quinn agreed and said the city has been pleased with the dealings between Goodman Properties and business owners – in some cases the developer has offered to relocate businesses.

"We could lose Target, Kohl's and these shopping centers to neighboring communities if the developer and these people don't know the city is sincere about supporting them and bringing them in," he said. "I understand how difficult this is, but I could not sleep at night if I let the people of Millville down. We can't let this go."

The proposed $40 million shopping mall – which would be located near the Millville Town Center – could bring 1,000 jobs to the area.

It would also collect approximately $1.6 million in property tax revenues – not counting Urban Enterprise Zone monies.

The eight properties – with two not functioning – currently collects about $42,710.49 in tax revenues.

"It was just something that had to be done," Quinn said. "I know in some areas it may not be popular, but I don't see any other choice."

The Bridgeton News: www.nj.com