Jersey localities back eminent domain power: Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, 2/3/05

By Tom Hester

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities yesterday joined with leagues in 30 other states to enter a U.S. Supreme Court case that will determine whether municipal governments can take private property for economic redevelopment.

The leagues filed a friend of the court brief on the side of New London, Conn., in the case, which is to be heard by the high court Feb. 22. The case pits seven New London homeowners against their city, which is trying to take their property so a developer can build an office, hotel and residential complex. A decision is expected by June.

Historically, cities and towns have used condemnation to clear land for new schools, parks, highways, and other public facilities. A series of laws passed in the mid- 1900s enabled municipalities to take land they believe is blighted and turn it over to a developer. A 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed that right. Opponents argue that in some cases cities and towns are taking well-kept homes and viable businesses for the benefit of private developers.

In Newark, residents of the city's Mulberry Street urban renewal neighborhood have filed a lawsuit to stop the government from declaring their property blighted to make way for a $550 million, 2,000-condominium project. Eminent domain has also been used to clear the way for redevelopment projects in New Brunswick, Perth Amboy and Jersey City.

"The league has joined to support New London in this matter to protect the right of New Jersey municipalities to use the important power of eminent domain to promote economic development," said William G. Dressel, its director. "That power, even though it may not be used except in rare situations, is important so municipalities in New Jersey can continue to rebuild their tax bases and revitalize their economies."

Star-Ledger: www.nj.com/news/ledger