Pallone touts bill to curb eminent domain: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 9/20/05

By William H Sokoloc

Alba Borland runs a boutique on Ventnor Avenue [in Ventnor NJ]. She also draws income from renting apartments above her shop.

Borland would like to keep it that way. But her property has been targeted as part of Ventnor's plan to redevelop 28 acres near the Atlantic City boundary.

"The city will tell me to move from my house and close my business. That really hurts me," she said Monday outside her store. Borland and a couple of dozen other opponents to the plan gathered to hear Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., speak about legislation he expects to introduce this week to rein in the use of eminent domain where federal funds are involved.

Such use was bolstered this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of eminent domain in a case involving private developers in New London, Conn.

"This is happening in many parts of the state," Pallone said. "Municipalities are taking nice homes and businesses and turning them over to developers for more expensive homes. It's just not right."

Camden's Cramer Hill is a case in point.

The $1.3 billion project, tied up in the courts by a challenge regarding eminent domain, includes 6,000 housing units and a golf course. It would displace more than 1,000 families, many of them homeowners.

But the situation is particularly acute along the Jersey Shore, where property values have skyrocketed with a growing demand for luxury housing.

Ventnor hasn't ruled out the use of eminent domain in its controversial redevelopment project, an official said.

But it would do so only when alternatives were exhausted, said city Administrator Drew J. McCrosson Jr.

"It was never our intent to use it carte blanche or to chase people from their homes or businesses," McCrosson said. "We have a diverse population which enriches the community."

Ventnor is negotiating a contract with Pulte Homes Inc. and Alliance Companies to construct some 375 upscale houses and additional retail shopping. The proposal has overcome lawsuits by residents and led to an agreement with the Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County, which charged the plan discriminated against Latinos.

McCrosson cannot guarantee that all the homes and businesses will be able to remain after negotiations are completed.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer in the case involving private developers in New London, Conn., will only make such situations worse, said Pallone, who discussed a proposal to limit the use of federal funds in projects that use eminent domain.

Pallone's bill is one example of how the New London case has triggered an outpouring of anti-eminent domain reaction from the public and lawmakers, said Damon Smith, assistant professor of law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., has co-sponsored the Property Rights Protection Act, which prohibits a state or municipality from using economic development as a reason for eminent domain if federal funds are used to build the project.

The redevelopment plan in Ventnor does not use federal funds, McCrosson said. The Senate will hold hearings today in Washington on federal de-funding of eminent domain abuse.

Yet federal actions are restricted, Smith said.

In New Jersey and most other states, the power of eminent domain derives fromstate constitutional law.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com