By Carol Gorga Williams
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue its conclusions as to the use of eminent domain in community redevelopment cases, [Long Branch NJ] Mayor Adam Schneider remains committed to the process, despite any political price he may pay.
"Maybe the best thing that could happen is they throw me out of office," said Schneider, adding that he could spend more time with his family.
For the last 15 years, Schneider has spearheaded a citywide redevelopment effort that in the last 18 months has produced some opposition.
"I feel comfortable and confident we're doing this the right way," he said.
Schneider and city Business Administrator Howard H. Woolley Jr. shared the dais on Thursday with David Barry, president of Applied Development Co., Pier Village's Hoboken-based developer who also is working with Matzel & Mumford to develop Beachfront North.
They were joined by Jeffrey A. Nadell, director of Urban Opportunities for K. Hovnanian Homes, the proposed redeveloper of Beachfront South, in a presentation before members of The Northern New Jersey District Council of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group that champions "smart growth."
Donald M. Moliver, director of the Real Estate Institute and the Pozycki professor of Real Estate at Monmouth University, moderated the session for professional planners, architects, engineers and developers. The afternoon was billed as a case study of the redevelopment process, with Long Branch as a successful model, according to the institute.
The panel discussed the increasing unpopularity of using eminent domain to acquire properties for urban redevelopment, and Schneider said despite any hits he may take, he believes it is the only realistic way to amass properties for redevelopment.
"If elected officials look at urban decay . . . and leave it alone, then they are immoral. If we had left it alone, we would not have done our job," he said, describing an oceanfront filled with slums and troubled by high crime.
"What is the alternative?" Schneider asked, adding that "market forces" were never going to bring change.
Schneider said redevelopment was successful in his city because most people supported it and because he had the backing of the council. He said some politicians are "playing to that crowd" when they suddenly start to oppose redevelopment.
"I would not venture down that road with that kind of politics in my town," he said. "I never saw this as my vision. I don't consider myself a visionary at all. I was smart enough to listen to smart people, and I got the public involved (by) asking them what they want in their town."
Schneider said in the second phase of Beachfront North, homes valued at $60,000 to $90,000 have received appraisals placing properties in the $500,000 to $600,000 range.
"You couldn't walk these neighborhoods at night," Schneider said. "Nobody would come here. We had to do it."
He said of the pending Supreme Court case that "if they tell me the rules of the game have changed, and I have to stop what I'm doing, I'll stop."
But he said he doesn't think that is likely.
"Without eminent domain, you can't redevelop the area in any meaningful way," said Barry.
Asbury Park Press: www.app.com