Church wants immigrant's property, cites eminent domain: RenewAmerica, 9/13/05

Three Letters

By Matt C. Abbott

Cheng Tan of Jersey City, NJ, recently wrote the following letter to Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark (edited)

"Dear Archbishop Myers,

"It is with great hesitation and trepidation that I am writing this letter to your attention.

"The recent events that have taken place in America — the delayed rescue actions in the Louisiana floods and the recent Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain, Kelo v. New London — makes me wonder whether the America I have known and respected is still the same country.

"In the latter subject matter, many legal minds are disturbed and have questioned the wisdom of that decision whereby the court has ruled that taking of private property for another private party is deemed legal. Many feel the court has erred and has violated the rights of citizens and the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"As an Asian immigrant to the U.S. more than 30 years ago, I too had the benefit of a good Catholic education by the La Sallian Brothers in Malaysia, and I am proud of it. This is one reason I can pen this letter of appeal to your kindness in English with sufficient clarity.

"The reason for this letter is that one of the parishes under your jurisdiction, Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, in collusion with St. Peter's Prep School, has made use of the powerful eminent domain laws to seize my property for their own benefit. My property is across the street from the Church's property on Grand Street, Jersey City.

"They argue that a greater public good would be served by their actions. Unfortunately, any action, even if on the surface appears to be for the public good, cannot be deemed acceptable if, in the eyes of God, it was done with unclean hands or motive.

"This conspiracy using one of the city's governing bodies, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, to get the dirty job done through politically connected individuals, most of whom are alumni of Saint Peter's Prep, makes me very sad.

"In my opinion, these individuals, in their quest to show the community that they are contributing to the public good, have not benefited from the very Catholic education they have received from one of your schools. Greed, ego and ... material wealth have overpowered them. The Waterfront in Jersey City is a hotbed of real estate development, land grabbing is happening all around and your parish's involvement is no exception.

"If this is the America of the future, I certainly do not want my children to be part of it.

"Since this is happening under your jurisdiction, I believe you have the power to check this abuse. I therefore appeal to you for help from a moral rather than from a legal position.

"The Supreme Court, when it ruled on the Kelo case, said that the states should be legislating laws to curb such abuses and not the court. This seems to contradict the very essence of the Bill of Rights which was enacted to protect the citizens from the abuse of state powers. The Constitution that the Founding Fathers have established is now in danger of being corrupted, and your action or inaction can help preserve or hasten its deterioration....

"...In my situation, time is not on my side. The city has already seized title to my property on behalf of the church, and with the law as they stand unchanged, the court will rule in favor of the plaintiff in most cases. This property, which I and my wife have struggled, worked hard, saved and hope to enjoy for our retirement, is now in danger of being taken by your church against my will.

"A hearing date has been set for September 23 in the State Superior Court to have my case heard. As I have indicated, I am not too optimistic about the outcome since my attorney has said that unless I am financially wealthy and politically connected, I do not stand a chance to win.

"I am therefore appealing to your kindness and interest in moral justice to intervene, right this wrong and not let it be said the Church has allowed one of its own to be involved in an immoral act....

"I have the complete case history of events where OLC/St. Peter's Prep were involved and it goes way back to July 1999. Due to the stress and uncertainty we went through, my wife fell ill and succumbed to her illness last year. She could not believe a church, a representative of the Catholic Church, could do such a thing.

"Hopefully I look forward to hearing from your office and perhaps something positive can be worked out for the betterment of everyone."

James Goodness, communications director for the Archdiocese of Newark, had this response to Tan's letter

"From what I have been able to determine, the City of Jersey City and St. Peter's Prep, a private Catholic school owned and operated by the Jesuits in Jersey City (not by the Archdiocese), have been involved in this effort.

"The parish listed in the letter, Our Lady of Czestochowa, which is a diocesan parish, is not a party in the effort. OLC merely uses the St. Peter's property on occasion. It does not own the property — St Peter's Prep does — and will not benefit financially from any real estate transaction involving Mr. Tan's property.

"What appears to have happened is that Mr. Tan mistakenly — it can often happen — assumes that every Catholic institution or organization is part of the Archdiocese.

"Our Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Emery, has written to Mr. Tan explaining that the Archdiocese is not looking to take over his property.

"As I understand it, Jersey City has zoned the two properties — both Mr. Tan's and the St. Peter's property — as Greenfields properties, which indicates that they can be used only for certain purposes, such as the sports fields that the City and St. Peter's are intending to create."

Tan's response to Goodness's statement was this (edited)

"This is getting very interesting. Mr. Goodness is either receiving information through hearsay or he is not getting the facts straight.

"According to legal papers that I have checked, St. Peter's Prep Athletic Foundation, Inc., is the applicant of the site plan review when it was originally filed on January 7, 2003. Fr. Tom Ivanowski of OLC was also one of the signatories. He may have been removed from the scene for obvious reasons.

"It is formed from a partnership whereby OLC, St Peter's Prep and another invisible entity hold a 10 percent interest in the corporation. The disclosure statement regarding the ten percent ownership of this non-profit corporation was not available when I tried to find out who it was. At the time when the application for site plan was made, OLC was definitely listed as having part ownership of this corporation....

"Also, during the redevelopment plan hearings, nothing was mentioned about 'Greenfields.' What about all the other properties within the development? Every other property owner was accommodated to minimize any opposition to the plan. I was the only one who raised an objection.

"Also, in the site plans hearings, the St. Peter's Prep' attorney specifically said he has no use for my property when I raised my concern. It looks like someone is back peddling here after they got their approvals.

"The bottom line is they want my property but do not want to pay market value for it so they use eminent domain and all these 'sleight of hands' techniques.

"Also, in 1999, when I objected to the redevelopment plan, Fr. Tom of OLC offered to swap one of their Sussex street properties for mine and I rejected his offer."

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