Educational forum held on eminent domain: Haddon (NJ) Herald, 2/9/05

By Dan Keashen

The first time I knew my house was in a redevelopment zone was when I found surveyors on my property over the summer," says Westville resident Jason Mchenry.

Since the redevelopment has come to Westville many residents are concerned about their homes being taken through eminent domain.

A group of Haddon Township residents made a special trip to the small river town to provide answers and solutions.

In the summer months of last year the Land Use Commission of Westville - on the basis of a determination of need report by an outside planner - designated a swath of water front property as a redevelopment zone.

In mid-January the town council and Mayor Bill Packer passed the controversial resolution in front of a crowd of 250 dissenting residents.

Once the legislation was passed for the use of condemnation on 30 properties along Timber Creek residents needed find out how to save their homes.

After Mchenry got an official notice of the redevelopment zone he started to do research into eminent domain.

He found out the process is the power in which a municipality is given by the state of New Jersey to condemn blighted properties for the public good.

He says that he was given the contact number of Haddon Township resident John Smith by the Castle Coalition - a non-profit grassroots organization that organizes residents against the abuse of eminent domain.

"Jason called me up and asked me if I could help him save his house," says Smith.

At St. John's Lutheran Church, urban planner and the Lead Coordinator for We C.A.N. of Haddon Township, Pat Seidman addressed the concerns of residents like Mchenry.

Sitting at a table in front of a packed room Seidman and We C.A.N comrades John and Jean Smith explained the process of eminent domain.

"When we started talking about our situation in Haddon Township you saw a state of shock settle in to the crowd. I don't think anyone knew the full impact of the redevelopment resolution," says Smith.

Smith notes the residents of Westville were looking for a way to fight for their homes.

"They needed to figure out a solution, but I don't think they realized how overreaching the redevelopment statutes of New Jersey are. We gave them our perspective of what we've done and what can be done to stop this injustice by local municipal leaders," says Smith.

He adds the overall consensus was the way to stop redevelopment and condemnation is to change your political leaders that put "tax rateables as a priority over residents."

Seidman - who lectures on the subject community planning, development, and public participation - says the community of Westville needs to organize and work together on the issue.

"I wanted the residents of the town to know, if they stood together on this issue and pulled for each other they had a better chance of stopping this land grab."
Seidman says one passionate person can change things in a community.

Mchenry says the most important lesson learned from the meeting was to organize with other residents against the unfair taking of property.

"We're going to need to really come together like they did in Haddon Township. We need to find a change in the local government because in this case they've forgotten about the hard working residents that put then in office," says Mchenry.

While Mchenry and his peers organize for the fight to save their homes the municipal government is continuing to go forward with the redevelopment plan.

"Everything the Smiths and Pat Seidman brought down here were insightful and educating for us. Now we know what we're gone have to do to keep our homes," says Mchenry.

The Haddon Herald: www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?brd=1695