By Christine Varno
The Long Branch City Council took the first steps toward condemnation of properties in the Beachfront North Phase II redevelopment zone at Tuesday’s meeting.
The council approved two resolutions authorizing the city to retain two law firms to “perform services of redevelopment counsel for the Beachfront North Phase II project of the city of Long Branch.”
“[The resolutions] are obviously for acquisition of the property,” city Financial Director Ronald Mehlhorn Sr. said in an interview prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
One resident of the redevelopment zone said she is ready for this step.
“The city is taking private property and handing it over to a private developer,” Denise Hoagland, Ocean Terrace, said before the meeting Tuesday.
“It is wrong and it does not get any clearer than that.
“This is the beginning of them raping us of our due process and our properties.”
The resolutions award a $25,000 contract to Ansell, Zaro, Grimm and Aaron, Ocean Township, City Attorney James Aaron’s law firm, and $75,000 to Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis, Woodbridge.
Aaron said at the meeting his law firm is being retained to handle negotiations “if, in fact, the MTOTSA property owners want to negotiate.”
“If the homeowners cannot reach a compromise with the city, and as a last resort the city must use eminent domain,” he said, Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis would handle those proceedings.
If there are no negotiations, or if the city does not have to resort to eminent domain, the fees would be returned to the developers, he added.
According to Mehlhorn, the fees are provided by the designated developers of the zone, Applied Cos., Hoboken, co-developer with Matzel and Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, which have been given the right to redevelop the 36 properties in the three-street neighborhood, known as MTOTSA – Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue.
The area is slated for eminent domain and plans call for the properties to be razed and replaced with upscale townhomes and condominiums.
“My understanding is that most of the appraisals have been done and some offers have already been made to the property owners [in MTOTSA]” Mehlhorn said.
“If there is not a forthcoming agreement [between the city and the property owners], then condemnation will be used to acquire the properties.”
Before eminent domain is enacted by a governing body, several procedures must be followed by the city, explained Michael S. Kasanoff, Red Bank attorney. Kasanoff is representing a resident of the first phase of the Beachfront North redevelopment zone whose home already has been taken through eminent domain proceedings.
“Prior to eminent domain, there has to be good faith negotiations [between the city and] property owners,” he said.
“Appraisers must appraise the properties. The city then decides if the figure is appropriate before making an offer to the property owners.
“After the property owners receive an offer, they can get counsel and negotiate or say ‘no, under no circumstances.’ ”
If the property owners refuse, Kasanoff continued, “there essentially is a stalemate [between the city and property owners] and a compromise is unable to be reached. That is when the city can file eminent domain proceedings.”
According to MTOTSA members, which represents 26 of the neighborhood’s 36 property owners, they are not willing to sell their properties.
MTOTSA has hired Peter H. Wegener, an expert in defending eminent domain cases with the law firm of Bathgate, Wegener and Wolf in Lakewood, to represent them.