This property is condemned - but why? (Central NJ) Home News Tribune, 9/1/05


By Ed Mueller, New Brunswick

The comments of New Brunswick planner Glenn Patterson in a recent article on the proposed Gateway development ("Gateway Plan Progresses") need to be addressed for the sake of balance and fairness.

I am a property owner on Somerset Street in the area that has been targeted for redevelopment by Mr. Patterson and the city's redevelopment arm - Devco. I have been at the location for 30 years. My buildings are well kept and so are those of my neighbors. The neighborhood is a thriving economic area.

Last February, Devco, the City Council and Rutgers University conducted a huge news conference to announce this over-ambitious $127 million project dubbed Gateway - but they didn't tell the public that in order to build this monstrosity, the city would have to forcibly take my buildings and many others - effectively putting us out of business.

Of course, the taking of our private property - which the city will give to Devco - was never mentioned at the press conference. Several months after the plans for Gateway were announced, the city planning board charged Mr. Patterson with the task of "investigating" the area for the proposed project to see if it is "blighted." And of course, Mr. Patterson came back with his results that showed indeed - the area is blighted and needs to be condemned. What else was Mr. Patterson expected to say after the politically connected Devco and the city council had already announced their redevelopment plans? If he had come back with any other finding, he probably would have been fired.

Mr. Patterson's findings are a clear example of "condemnation to order" - and further evidence that the eminent domain laws in New Jersey are being abused by the politically connected and need to be changed.

The fact is that the Somerset Street area is not a blighted area and that Mr. Patterson's report represents biased and shoddy work. For example, in one part of his report, he noted that my property was in disrepair because the "steps were crumbling." But he didn't note that the steps were crumbling because a few days before Mr. Patterson inspected the property, a car ran off the road and plowed into my building damaging the steps.

As for Mr. Patterson's defense of the process that resulted in condemnation, it has to be noted that the hearings before the planning board on Mr. Patterson's report were a complete sham. Questioning of Mr. Patterson by my attorney was limited, and frankly it didn't matter how many holes we found in Patterson's report because the Planning Board wasn't listening. The board was obviously under orders to recommend Somerset Street be condemned - and it did.

I will take the fight to keep my property to court. I won't give in to the strong-arm tactics of the city that thinks it can steamroll over small business owners just to fulfill the profit-driven desires of politically connected, big money developers.

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