By Carol Gorga Williams
The [Long Branch] City Council voted Tuesday to reaffirm its use of eminent domain for the 23 remaining properties in the Marine Terrace-Ocean Terrace-Seaview Avenue area, also known as MTOTSA.
The council voted 4 to 1 to approve a resolution invoking its power to take homes after paying "just compensation." The city's use of eminent domain has been widely criticized by neighborhood residents and their supporters who for two years have been urging the council to abandon its plans for redeveloping the 6-acre parcel.
"My home is not blighted. I can't say that enough. Tell me where the hell I can find a home for $400,000 (with) this access to the beach," said Denise Hoagland, who lives with her husband and three children at 68 Ocean Terrace.
Council President John "Fazz" Zambrano voted against the resolution, saying emphatically, "No." While other council members who supported the measure said it was difficult to do so, they said it was best for the city as a whole.
The resolution, which sets forth conditions of the entire redevelopment proposal, also includes the right to use eminent domain in contested negotiations, City Attorney James G. Aaron said. The city originally authorized the use of eminent domain in 2001 but put off acting upon that until after the redevelopment plan was finalized.
Under the city's waterfront redevelopment plan, Hoagland's home and others in her neighborhood would be replaced by upscale condos under Beachfront North Phase 2. The project is proposed by MM-Beachfront North II, LLC, which comprises Hoboken-based Applied Development, and Matzel and Mumford, a subsidiary of K. Hovnanian.
They vow not to sell
The MTOTSA residents' association, which represents more than half the property owners in the area, according to longtime member William A. Nordahl, has vowed not to sell at any price and instead plans to sue the city challenging its right to take the homes. They argue the city has undervalued the homes and have raised concerns about the tactics of the city-appointed appraiser, Hugh McGuire.
Aaron said Tuesday night no taxpayer money would be used defending the city in a lawsuit, and the developers will pick up the cost.
The council also was to authorize the issuance of so-called 14-day letters, which will give homeowners two weeks to begin serious contract negotiations with the city, before eminent domain proceedings begin. The delivery of those letters, which was not authorized Tuesday night, is "imminent," Aaron said.
David Barry of Applied Tuesday night reiterated the company's proposal offering a condo swap with homeowners in the Beachfront North zone at a discounted rate. The deal also includes prepayment of property maintenance fees for 10 years, and offsetting of real estate tax increases. People living in the neighborhood prior to 1996 who are being displaced will receive an extra $2,000 a month for 36 months for a total of $72,000, in addition to compensation for their home, he said.
Applied's Gregory S. Russo said Friday that the developer has settled amicably with 12 of the 35 property owners, including two who swapped properties for condominiums in the yet-to-be-built development.
Officials' views changed
During a lengthy public comment session accompanied by cheers and clapping prior to the council vote, Hoagland read several letters written by Councilman Michael DeStefano in the 1980s before he took office, which were submitted to area newspapers in which he appeared to oppose replacing single-family homes with condominiums.
She also quoted Mayor Adam Schneider in a 1986 newspaper article in which he opposed condo and town house buildup.
"I'm in a single-family area, and my home is not blighted, and the people who elected you anticipated something different," Hoagland told the mayor and council.
Anna DeFaria, 45 Marine Terrace, also said she couldn't buy a house near "dirty water" at $325,000, which she says is what she was offered for her home.
A widow, DeFaria, who will be 80 next month, said her husband died nine years ago.
"If he could look down, he's probably crying that you're taking his house away from him," DeFaria said.
Comments from Al Mattia of 700 Ocean Ave., who has lived in Long Branch for 10 years, were shouted down by the audience.
"This is an extremely sensitive situation, with people's homes being taken away from them. However, I am looking at the big picture," said Mattia, who has visited the city for 50 of his 59 years.
Mattia talked about improvements in the area over the last 10 years.
"Safety issues and quality of life — where was that? Why doesn't anyone talk about what they've (the council) done in that area? . . . This is progress, it's quality progress," Mattia said. "I don't see amusements or fortune tellers. I don't see any of that. . . . They've (Applied) done a phenomenal job. Of course they want to make money. We all want to make money."
Condo plans detailed
Earlier Tuesday night, Thomas B. Bauer, a landscape architect with the Point Pleasant Beach firm of Melillo and Bauer, gave a presentation on Beachfront North Phase 2, saying there would be three buildings compatible in design with the Grand Resorts section in Beachfront North Phase 1.
Building 1 would have 45 units, Building 2 would have 65 and Building 3 would have 75, for a total of 185 units. Parking for residents would be below the units.
The proposal includes a two-story public pavilion at the end of Seaview Avenue, which would include public concessions, dining, space for public meetings and restrooms. There would be new handicapped and regular beach access, as well as pedestrian and bike paths, and a nearby boat ramp.
A 1-acre site that previously had been allocated for a restaurant is now being given to the town to add to the Great Lawn at Madison and Ocean avenues.
Seaview Avenue would be widened and include 97 public parking spaces. There will be 171 public parking spaces throughout the project.
Earlier Tuesday, Assemblymen Michael J. Panter and Robert L. Morgan, both D-N.J., called on Schneider to delay any further use of eminent domain for private redevelopment purposes until the state Legislature has had a chance to consider its bill to prohibit such steps.
Schneider said Tuesday the two legislators have never spoken to him about redevelopment in Long Branch.
"I'm very easy to get ahold of. They could have contacted me at any point in the process," Schneider said.
City officials maintain the redevelopment here was not solely for economic development purposes.
Asbury Park Press: www.app.com