By Christine Varno
It was just 35 degrees on Sunday afternoon, but the chill in the air didn’t stop a crowd of nearly 250 people from marching along Ocean Boulevard to rally against the taking of private property by eminent domain.
Long Branch was among 30 cities nationwide where citizens gathered this week to hold rallies and vigils in support of the plaintiffs in Kelo v. New London (Conn.), a case involving eminent domain that began arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
“I just feel I had to show my support,” Dyann Scacciaferro, Monmouth Beach, said. “This is going on all over, and you never know when it could happen to you.”
Scacciaferro was one among many supporters who came from Long Branch and many surrounding communities to “walk the walk” with residents living in the city’s Beachfront North Phase II redevelopment zone, known as MTOTSA (Marine and Ocean terraces and Seaview Avenue).
Residents and supporters walked for two hours along Ocean Boulevard, many wearing shirts and waving signs that read “End Eminent Domain” and “Don’t Take Our Homes.”
The walkers started out on Seaview Avenue and proceeded to Broadway, then crossed back to the east side of Ocean Boulevard, walking to the Long Branch border at Atlantic Avenue before returning to Seaview Avenue.
“I have been living here for five years,” Tim Ryan, Ocean Terrace, said as he walked. Ryan wore a sweatshirt that bore the admonition, Shame on Long Branch. “I am a renter,” he said. “I am here to support my neighbors.”
Homes in the MTOTSA neighborhood are slated for eminent domain to be replaced with upscale condominiums and townhomes built by developers Matzel & Mumford, a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown.
Susette Kelo is a homeowner along the New London waterfront where the New London Development Corporation, a private development corporation, plans to take Kelo’s property and the other 15 properties in the neighborhood. The area is slated for redevelopment with condominiums and a hotel.
Plaintiff Kelo is being represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a non-profit law firm based out of Washington, D.C., that specializes in the protection of private property when eminent domain is not used for public use.
The two cases are parallel, according to Scott Bullock from IJ, who will be arguing the Kelo case.
Long Branch was the third stop Sunday in a series of rallies held in towns in New Jersey where residents are being faced with eminent domain.
The first rally started in Neptune Township at town hall on Neptune Boulevard at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m. people gathered in Asbury Park at the municipal building on Main Street. Several traveled to Long Branch to participate in the walk that began at 3 p.m.
Asbury Park Councilman John Hamilton, who took part in all three rallies, spoke briefly at the end of the Long Branch walk, stirring the crowd with his remarks.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” he told the large crowd assembled on Seaview Avenue. He said the turnout surpassed that in both Asbury Park and Neptune.
“Is it right when elected representatives make decisions that negatively impact the lives and property of the people they swore to represent?” he asked those assembled. “Is it fitting when working-class people become victims of greedy developers? Is it fair that less than 5 percent of all people subjected to eminent domain will be allowed to remain in the areas where they resided?”
A resident from Atlantic Avenue, which is not in the city’s redevelopment zone, said she was participating in the rally in Long Branch because she was fearful that she could be next.
“It is madness and a disgrace,” Sheran Buffaloe said. “I am concerned.”
“These are our homes,” Bill Giordano, MTOTSA, said. “Where is the morality? Where is the justice? Who has the right to decide when your American Dream is over?”
“It stops here. It stops today.”