By Christine Varno
Residents of Long Branch’s redevelopment zone pleaded with the City Council last week to put a hold on eminent domain proceedings involving their properties until the Supreme Court rules on the issue.
“The Supreme Court has taken the eminent domain case,” Harold Bobrow, of Ocean Boulevard, said at the Oct. 12 council meeting. “Put this [the redevelopment plan] on hold until after the decision of the Supreme Court. Once [the homes in the redevelopment zone] are down, they are gone, kaput, goodbye.”
On Sept. 27, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Kelo vs. New London, which would set limits on eminent domain under the Constitution, according to Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C. He said the New London case is similar to what is taking place in Long Branch.
“Apparently, there is some thought by the Supreme Court that something is unconstitutional in eminent domain law,” said Bobrow, whose home is in the city’s Beachfront South redevelopment zone and slated for eminent domain.
Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider responded that he does not think the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case will affect what is happening in Long Branch.
“It’s a very different issue,” he said, “that is grounded in the rights of a governmental body solely [taking land] for economic purposes.
“Long Branch can establish public use and purpose.”
The city adopted a resolution on Aug. 4, designating K. Hovnanian Shore Acquisitions, of Middletown, as developer of the 12 acres of Beachfront South that is bordered on the east by Ocean Avenue, on the west by Ocean Boulevard, on the south by North Bath Avenue and on the north by Morris Avenue.
Schneider said the plans call for bulldozing the properties and constructing 270 units to 350 mid-rise condominiums and townhouses on the site.
“Long Branch is turning into a privatized nightmare,” Katina Tsakiris, of Beachfront South, said.
Schneider said he and the council are doing what is for the best for the entire city.
“We knew full well that the area [Long Branch] clearly was in terrible shape and getting worse,” he said. “We could have [redeveloped] one block, but it would not have worked. We needed a large area.”
He said the intent of the council is to continue with the redevelopment plan.
“You can criticize what we are doing as much as you want, but the plan is clearly working,” he said.
Residents living in the Beachfront North Redevelopment zone, phase II, which includes Marine and Ocean terraces, and Seaview Avenue (MTOTSA), also want to save their homes from being razed and replaced with townhouses and condominiums as well.
“Please don’t take us away from our homes,” Tom Bellucci, of MTOTSA, said.
When the plans for the MTOTSA area were in the beginning stages in the Planning Board meetings in 1996, Lori Vendetti of MTOTSA said she was at the meetings and the plans at that time called for MTOTSA to be revitalized and called for in-fill around the properties.
“I was here in 1996 and the plan said revitalization,” Vendetti said. “We didn’t care because it was in-fill of empty lots. You did not say you were taking our homes.”
Schneider said the original plans called for a number of different things.
“My guess is you heard what you wanted to hear,” Schneider said. “One being exactly what is happening now.
“The whole point of the plan and process is to get the community involved,” he said. “Coming to one meeting 10 years ago is not getting involved in the process.”
Bruce MacCloud, whose home on Cooper Avenue in the city’s redevelopment zone was taken through eminent domain, said he was a victim of the Schneider development plan.
“I see one new development to deal with,” he said. “And that is [for Schneider] to resign.”
Schneider said he has been unable to engage in a serious conversation with city residents at council meetings because he said they do not present serious discussions.
“That is unfortunate, especially for MTOTSA,” he said.
Schneider applauded one resident at the last meeting for speaking to the council calmly and allowing the council to respond to the questions asked.