Eminent domain resolution off the agenda: The Haddon (NJ) Herald, 3/3/05

By Timothy Green

A crowd of residents and a news crew from Comcast's CN8 went to last week's Haddon Township Commissioners' meeting expecting the commissioners to pass a resolution to use eminent domain, but the item was mysteriously dropped from the agenda.

Commissioner Kathy Hogan said she was given an amended copy of the agenda on Feb. 18, which listed the acquisition of three private residences, but they did not appear on the agenda handed out at last Tuesday's meeting.

Mayor William Park Jr. said the item was not introduced because he would like to come to a compromise with residents living in the redevelopment zone instead of using eminent domain.

"I don't feel comfortable with having anyone lose their homes," he said. "I'd rather see there be an agreement reached."

But one resident thought the item was taken off the agenda because of the media scrutiny placed on the township.

"The microscope has been put on you three from the news people and the TV people," said John Sandone as he addressed the commissioners. "That's what stopped this. This is not the act of a good conscience." He added that Haddon Township is only threatening to use eminent domain because it is being influenced by Fieldstone Associates.

Sandone is currently suing Haddon Township because he, too, is in danger of losing his property through forced condemnation. Another resident, Leonard Ruediger, whose home on Center Street was one of the properties listed for acquisition on the original agenda, has joined Sandone's lawsuit.

A letter from Kenney & Kearny, the law firm representing the two men, was read into the public record by We C.A.N. coordinator Pat Seidman on Ruediger's behalf. The letter was dated Feb. 22, the same day of the commissioners' meeting.

Resident John Smith questioned if Ruediger's property would still be on the agenda if he had not joined the lawsuit.

Park said the township would like to work with Ruediger to "explore other options." He said he would try to help Ruediger relocate to an area of town closer to the Speedline.

If an agreement can be reached with Fieldstone to purchase Ruediger's property, by law it would have to pay any relocation costs. But, if the township uses forced condemnation, then the costs would fall to the township, according to redevelopment council Kathy Ward.

The agenda did list the purchase of property from two residents, but Park said that in these instances it was voluntary.

The possibility of using eminent domain to take away the property of people living in the Dy-Dee Wash redevelopment zone has long been on the minds of township residents, especially those people living in the redevelopment zone. Hogan wanted something done to protect those people who either live or own businesses in the redevelopment zone.

"I move that we radically revise the contract with Fieldstone," Hogan said. "If this contract is not revised I think we should take the proper steps to rescind it. I feel that I was lied to and the people of Haddon Township were lied to."

This statement garnered applause and cheering from the attendees, many of who were wearing "eminent domain abuse" stickers, and silver whistles as a sign of support for Hogan, who has been referred to as a whistleblower.

Haddon Herald: www.zwire.com