Board: Eminent domain is not the only option — Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 1/06/05

By Bill Bowman

There are planning alternatives that could be used to spruce up the Steiner Avenue industrial area that do not require the borough taking private property, the [Neptune City] Land Use Board was told Wednesday night.

Planner James Higgins — who said he has also worked on the Asbury Park downtown and waterfront redevelopment — appeared on behalf of the owner of G&M Eastern Construction on Steiner Avenue, which is among those fighting the designation of that 21-acre area as being in need of redevelopment.

Higgins was still testifying at press time. The board is expected to hold at least one more meeting before voting on the matter.

Colts Neck-based Beacon Planning and Consulting has recommended that the borough designate more than 30 properties roughly bordered by Steiner Avenue, Memorial Drive and Route 35 as an area in need of redevelopment.

Such a designation would equip the borough with a number of tools to renovate the area, including use of eminent domain.

Higgins told the board that redevelopment and all that it implies "should be done as a very last step" and that, in his opinion, the board is not considering alternatives other than redevelopment.

"The implementation of public redevelopment policies is a very drastic step, probably the most drastic step a community can take in terms of land development," he said. "It's a very serious and overwhelming power that you have because you're taking peoples' property away from them."

Higgins said that among the alternatives supported by the state Department of Community Affairs are zoning changes, overlay zones — which would allow multiple uses in one zone — and declaring an area as being "in need of rehabilitation."

The latter option, he said, gives a town all the powers of the redevelopment designation save eminent domain.

Higgins said that the board could also recommend that the general area be declared in need of rehabilitation, while declaring certain distressed properties as being in need of redevelopment, as is being done with the Asbury Park waterfront.

Board chair Irene Allegro noted that Asbury Park had not yet demonstrated that the approach works.

"I'd be curious to know if there were any towns that took that sensitive route" to fruition, she said.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com