Eminent domain ruling is hailed: The Jersey Journal, 6/25/05

By Carly Baldwin

Hudson County [NJ] officials had mostly positive responses to Thursday's Supreme Court decision that secured the right of governments to use eminent domain for private development.

The power of eminent domain, which allows the government to seize land for greater public good, got a boost when the nation's top court ruled that the city of New London, Conn., could condemn well-kept homes and businesses and turn the properties over to a private developer.

The court determined that the prospect of a more vibrant city and a bigger tax base satisfied the constitutional requirement that land seizures be for a public use.

In recent decades in Hudson County, the power of eminent domain has been used to condemn or repossess properties in Jersey City and Weehawken to pave the way for development along the waterfront.

"The ruling will gentrify only those areas that directly need it," said Elizabeth Spinelli, director of Hudson Economic Development Corporation. "This is not for the benefit of a large corporation but for the benefit of the whole community."

However, Spinelli acknowledged the potential losses that can occur under this new ruling, including the forced closing of many small businesses.

With a more restrictive constitution than Connecticut's, New Jersey allows towns to seize only "blighted" property for redevelopment. But because the state Legislature defines that term broadly, some claim a growing number of towns are getting aggressive with their condemnation power.

Assemblyman Louis Manzo, D-Jersey City, has proposed a bill to limit the ability to seize properties.

"We are trying to jump the gun and level the playing field for smaller business owners," Manzo said. "We don't want people to jump to actions such as in Connecticut, where they repossessed perfectly good homes. In the future, someone may disregard the clause calling for a blighted area."

Michael O'Connor, the director of the Bayonne Economic Development Corporation, said his city is working on two redevelopment plans that might involve the repossession of small, privately owned businesses and homes.

"We're not trying to take people's businesses. Instead, we are trying to revitalize a key location in town," he said.

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said the ruling could facilitate the redevelopment of Journal Square.

"The ruling will allow Jersey City to consider eminent domain for Journal Square properties," he said in a statement. "The way Journal Square development has gone in the last 20 years, the city could exercise its right to condemn these properties."

The Jersey Journal: www.nj.com/news/jjournal