Eminent domain abuse overblown, says legal expert: Gloucester County (NJ) Times, 10/27/05

By Terrence Dopp

Politicians have engaged in fear-mongering and opportunism since the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year upheld governments' right to condemn private land for non-public development, according to a Rutgers Camden legal expert.

"It's probably overblown for political reasons in the sense that municipalities have built in reasons why they should be circumspect of using eminent domain willy-nilly," said Damon Smith, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Law School-Camden.

"There is reason to believe municipalities don't see this as the quick and easy land grab it has been described."

Long an established practice in New Jersey, eminent domain traditionally involved annexing land for a park, road or schools provided they meet established criteria.

Smith said he would support laws requiring government to pay home prices above market value and requiring governing bodies to pay above market value.

But one local lawmaker was skeptical of Smith's claims.

"I think what it did was it brought (condemnation issues) to peoples' attention," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3 of Paulsboro. "The Supreme Court decision woke a lot of people up and that is not a bad thing because the states still have the right to set their own laws."

Burzichelli said as mayor he has never led condemnation proceedings and the borough does not have any plans to take private land.

He predicted action in the Legislature.

"There is a commitment to restructuring the eminent domain (laws) and proceedings," Burzichelli said.

In New Jersey and other state capitols, legislators have rushed to propose laws that would restrict the ability of local and state governments to condemn private property to turn over to private development firms.

In the Garden State, the main proposal is Republican legislation requiring governments to meet greater burdens of what use would constitute a greater public good before taking private property.

Gloucester County Times: www.nj.com