Eminent domain measure put off: Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier-Post, 2/23/05

By Bill Duhart

Hours before the township board of commissioners was scheduled to introduce a measure to seize two private homes by eminent domain to make way for a redevelopment project, the measure was removed from the agenda Tuesday.

After the nearly two-hour meeting, which featured sharp bickering between Commissioner Kathleen Hogan and Mayor William Park, the two continued to trade barbs about why the items were removed.

"I threatened to sue them if they didn't take those items off the agenda," said Hogan.

Park said the item was removed early Tuesday at the suggestion of township solicitor Timothy Higgins and had nothing to do with Hogan's threatened suit. The lawsuit threat does, however, illustrate the level of acrimony among the commissioners, which include Park, Hogan and James Broderick.

Park and Higgins said the measure did not have to be acted on immediately and that more time could now be taken to negotiate with two homeowners whose properties were targeted for acquisition. Park said commissioners wanted "to take another month to take another stab at this."

"I don't think anyone is comfortable doing eminent domain," Park said after the meeting. "But you have to look at the composite picture here and look at what's good for the community."

A standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people attended the meeting. Virtually everyone who spoke in the public portion of the meeting opposed the redevelopment proposal.

The plan is to transform an aging strip of Haddon Avenue, between Crystal Lake and Reeves avenues, into an upscale blend of shops, town homes and apartments. The development is centered around the former Dy-Dee diaper laudry and stretches for a few blocks in each direction.

Resistance to the plan has been spirited. A group of neighbors, township residents and local activist organized a demonstration along Haddon Avenue Monday to draw attention to the Supreme Court case, the Haddon Avenue redevelopment project and a similar project in Westville also utilizing eminent domain.

The power of municipalities to take private property for public use, even against the wishes of the owner, has gotten regional and national recognition recently. The U.S. Supreme court took up a case involving eminent domain Tuesday.

Seizing the properties here represents a significant step forward in the process to transform an aging strip of the Haddon Avenue, between Crystal Lake and Reeves avenues into an upscale, mixed-use area of shops and homes.

The Courier-Post: www.courierpostonline.com