By Christine Varno
A group of [Long Branch] residents living within a city redevelopment zone say they will be hiring legal representation by the end of the year in the expectation of the taking of their homes by eminent domain.
The MTOTSA alliance — comprised of residents of properties on Marine and Ocean terraces and Seaview Avenue — organized a meeting with the homeowners and family members of residents living within their three-street neighborhood that has been designated the Beachfront North, phase II redevelopment zone.
The meeting, where 32 homeowners were represented, was held on Dec. 2 at the Ocean Place Resort on Ocean Boulevard.
“We [MTOTSA] shared research on the lawyers we have been interviewing and the approaches each one takes,” Olga Netto, MTOTSA core member, said about the meeting. “The meeting was excellent. I was very surprised at the backing we got.”
The group is retaining a lawyer as a last resort after all prior attempts to influence Mayor Adam Schneider and the city council to remove their properties from the redevelopment zone and save their homes from eminent domain have failed, according to a press release from MTOTSA.
Schneider has repeatedly told the residents at city council meetings to hire legal representation if they are living within a city redevelopment zone and are opposed to the city’s plans.
Schneider could not be reached for comment by deadline.
MTOTSA has been interviewing six law firms and has narrowed the search down to one attorney whose name is not being released, according to Denise Hoagland of MTOTSA.
A contract with a lawyer has not been signed at this time, according to Netto, who said MTOTSA is in the final stages of negotiations and a lawyer should be hired within the next three weeks.
“The lawyer we decide to hire must believe in our cause, must have researched our case and the history of eminent domain and must believe that we can win,” Netto said.
The designated co-developers of the MTOTSA area are; Matzel and Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, and Applied Cos., Hoboken.
The zone is slated for eminent domain, and plans call for the 36 properties to be bulldozed and replaced with condominiums.
MTOTSA is fighting to save their homes from what they say is an abuse of eminent domain.
“We are challenging the right of the city to take our houses,” Netto said. “We [MTOTSA] believe [the city] is threatening to take our properties, and not for public use. Eminent domain cannot be used.”
The Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to homeowners against threats of eminent domain abuse when private property is intended to be taken by a municipality for purposes other than public use, was represented at the meeting by Steven Anderson.
Anderson, the coordinator for the Castle Coalition, an IJ nationwide grassroots outreach effort that was started to rally against eminent domain abuse, said the meeting went well.
“[IJ] currently has a case [Kelo v. City of New London] before the U.S. Supreme Court, so we are keeping a close eye on the developments in Long Branch.” he said.
“IJ was present because they continue to support our fight,” Netto said.
The intentions of IJ are to assist MTOTSA in the legal battle for their homes if they are available at the time the city initiates the eminent domain procedure, according to Netto.
“But, we cannot challenge anything until something happens,” she said.