Residents sue over eminent domain plan: (South Jersey) Courier Post, 3/29/05

By Luis Puga

A community group and 43 residents of the Bergen Square neighborhood filed a lawsuit in Superior Court claiming the proposed redevelopment plan for that area abuses eminent domain and would add to the city's shortage of affordable housing.

The suit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by South Jersey Legal Services Inc., which has filed similar suits against redevelopment plans for residents in the Cramer Hill and Waterfront South neighborhoods.

Olga Pomar, a legal service attorney, said her clients, most of whom are homeowners, are worried about losing their homes through eminent domain. The procedure gives governments the ability to take private property in areas designated in need of redevelopment for compensation.

"Some of my clients are on the (plan's property) acquisition list," she said. "Some are not, but they fear the drastic changes that would happen to their neighborhood and fear that their homes may be added" to the list.

The suit states that, because the city and region face a public housing shortage, eliminating existing public housing in the neighborhood goes against the public good. That contradicts the state constitution, Pomar said.

The complaint also states the redevelopment plan primarily will affect low-income black and Hispanic residents.

The suit names as defendants Randy Primas, the city's chief operating officer, as well as the planning board, city council, the Economic Recovery Board of Camden, the Camden Redevelopment Agency and the state.

Representatives for the planning board and the Economic Recovery Board could not be reached for comment. Lee Moore, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said he could not comment on a complaint his office has not seen.

Primas, who also chairs the CRA's board of commissioners, noted most city neighborhoods are made up of black and Hispanic residents. He called that part of the complaint "ridiculous."

"There appears to be a small group individuals who seem determined to stop development anywhere in the city," Primas said.

That's not so, Pomar said.

"We are trying to make sure redevelopment does not cause low-income families, seniors and other vulnerable people from forcibly losing their homes," she said.

City Council President Angel Fuentes said he feels the plan also had community support during public hearings before council.

"It's really sad to see another lawsuit," he said. "These lawsuits are just people trying to maximize their settlements (for their property's acquisition) and so they will not be displaced outside their neighborhood."

Primas said he feels the series of lawsuits against redevelopment plans could affect developers' interest in the city.

"It just seems awfully frustrating," he said. "We are trying to make things to improve the quality life for residents."

The Courier Post: www.courierpostonline.com