State league backs eminent domain: The Haddon (NJ) Herald, 2/16/05

By Dan Keashen

The New Jersey League of Municipalities (NJLM) has filed a friend of the court brief with the City of New London, Conn.

Kelo vs. City of New London will be going in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

More than 30 municipal leagues from around the country have filed briefs in favor of keeping the eminent domain law pervasive and vague against the wishes of property owners.

The City of New London is attempting to take seven privately held properties through the use of eminent domain in New London.

The residential owners are trying to keep their homes in the face of an economic revitalization effort along the Thames River.

The same scenario is being played out along six acres of land on Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township. Both cases are legitimate question marks about the use of the public good in the bylaws of eminent domain.

"The courts, up to this point, have been fairly expansive in their rulings of what is a benefit to the public good," said staff attorney Deborah Kole for the NJLM.
She noted that the need for redevelopment should maintain its existing range as stated in the New Jersey statutes.

"We feel the economic public value of a municipality is an important thing to maintain. Better tax rateables and taking land that's vacant or being used in an obsolete manner will bring a public benefit and improvements for towns."

The NJLM wants to give state municipalities all the options to create revenue and keep their towns running efficiently.

"Instead of watching cities lose services and die we want them to have the option of revitalization," said Kole, adding without the use of eminent domain in New Jersey towns could end up with dead communities.

"We don't want to see one of the important tools for redevelopment of a municipality taken away."

The Heritage Foundation - a conservative think tank - has a fundamental disagreement with the NJLM's crusade for eminent domain.

"Towns do redevelopment and use eminent domain under the guise of economic revitalization and the benefit for the public at large, but what about the public living in the seized properties?" said Ronald Utt, senior research fellow. The benefit of attracting a couple of new jobs to a town or clearing out modest income homes for expensive ones is a deception of the public good, he claimed.

"If a municipality has unemployment rate of two percent, then who cares if a developer will bring in a handful of new jobs?" said Utt, noting many areas using eminent domain are operating under a double standard.

"Many towns are using eminent domain on what are supposed to be blighted houses; these houses turn out to be no different than any other in the towns. The reason they're blighted is because they happen to be in or near a strategic piece of land that a developer or business wants to use."

The director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Local Government, Ken Masugi echoed Utt's sentiments about the NJLM stance on the issue.

"It's obvious why these leagues of cities take the other side of Kelo. They want all the weapons they can muster in order to benefit the towns when they want to raise taxes," said Masugi.

He noted the leagues of municipalities are not concerned with property rights in this particular case.

"The leagues want to know what the best way is to expand a city budget or to attract economic development. They want to ensure municipalities still have a tool to take property if they need it."

As the case of Kelo vs. City of New London comes to its final hearing, sides are being drawn. Many property advocates think this case could be the end to the proverbial "land grab." Utt said the system of eminent domain being used for the public good is being overtly abused.

"It seems to be okay to restrict the freedom of having private property on the basis of economic development."

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