Supreme Court case may affect redevelopment plan
Atlanticville (NJ)/GM News, 10/6/04

Justices to hear appeal of eminent domain limits

by Christine Varno

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case involving eminent domain could affect redevelopment in Long Branch, according to an attorney for the Institute for Justice (IJ).

The Supreme Court agreed on Sept. 27 to hear Kelo vs. New London, Conn., which would set limits on eminent domain under the U.S. Constitution, IJ attorney Scott Bullock said.

"It’s going to be a big case, and it will affect how a city addresses private-to-private property transfers," Bullock said. "It is similar to what is going on in Long Branch."

Homeowners of 36 properties in a three-street neighborhood in Long Branch, known as the MTOTSA group, have asked Bullock to represent them if their properties are taken by the city through the process of eminent domain.

Bullock said his agency is following the case, but it would be premature to accept it until the city government acts on eminent domain.

MTOTSA, which stands for the neighborhood of Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue, is located in the oceanfront redevelopment zone designated as Beachfront North, Phase II, which is slated for seizure through eminent domain.

The designated co-developers, The Applied Cos., Hoboken, and Matzel and Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, have proposed razing the neighborhood and constructing townhouses and condominiums in place of the existing homes.

The MTOTSA group has said the city is abusing its power of eminent domain.

"The Supreme Court decision to take the New London case will affect homeowners threatened by eminent domain abuse not only in MTOTSA but throughout the country," Olga Netto, of MTOTSA, said last week. "The ability of cities to take private property by eminent domain for ‘public use’ will then be redefined to what its original intent was — to replace the property with facilities the public can own and use."

Netto said economic development is not a public use and the public needs to recognize that no one’s home is safe if economic development continues to be used as a justification for municipalities to acquire private property through eminent domain.

"City governments claim they want more tax revenue from a struggling city, so they condemn a residential neighborhood to replace it with hotels and condominiums," said IJ’s Bullock.

IJ is a nonprofit law firm based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in the protection of private property rights when eminent domain is not used for a public use.

That is what happened in the Kelo case, and that is what is going on in Long Branch, Bullock said.

Susette Kelo is a homeowner along the New London waterfront where the New London Development Corp., a private development corporation, plans to take Kelo’s property and the other 15 properties in her neighborhood, Bullock said.

The land would then be transferred to a private developer to construct a hotel, a condominium and office space, he said.

"Eminent domain was instituted against the homeowners," Bullock said. "The city wants the area where the people are living. They [the city] think they can make more money off it. That is outrageous."

Bullock and IJ senior attorney Dana Berliner are representing Kelo.

In a 4-3 decision earlier in the year, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city of New London.

"If there is nothing wrong with your home, your business or even your neighborhood, the government can use eminent domain to take your land and give it to the developer for his private gain" is what the court’s ruling decided, according to a statement on the IJ Web site.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case sometime next year.

"The Supreme Court taking the case indicates that they are concerned about the abuse of eminent domain," Bullock said.

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