Eminent domain OK'd for farm: (Camden NJ) Courier-Post, 9/29/05

By Erik Schwartz

The township can use eminent domain to acquire a 64-acre Sicklerville farm for the expansion of adjacent Frank Donio Memorial Park, according to an ordinance approved by the township committee.

The move is expected to trigger a lawsuit by AST Development Corp., which has an agreement to buy the land from the Jennings family. AST wants to build an over-55 community of 436 residential units on the property, parts of which sit on Berlin-Cross Keys, Sicklerville and Chews Landing roads.

Mayor Sue Ann Metzner "was able to dupe these residents into believing this is about a park," said Edward L. Stutz, vice president of AST. "This is not about a park. This is about an election."

Four seats on township committee are up for election in November, although Metzner's is not.

Tuesday's vote by the township committee was cheered by a crowd of about 100 residents who had expressed concerns about AST's plan, citing fears that it would result in more automobile traffic and reduced property values in their booming area.

Robin Still of Sicklerville decried the proliferation of suburban sprawl around her house.

"All I see is supermarkets and homes. I did not come to Winslow six years ago to look at that," Still said.

AST originally applied to build nearly triple the 169 housing units permitted by the zoning law. In response to the residents' protests and what officials said is a growing need for more recreation facilities in the Sicklerville section, the township committee voted unanimously last month to give the eminent-domain ordinance its preliminary approval.

AST estimates that its proposed mix of condominiums, town houses, duplexes and a shopping center would provide the Winslow school district some $2.4 million in annual property tax revenue, or more than 3 percent of the district's total budget, while not increasing school enrollment.

In addition to the cost of taking the land off the tax rolls, the township would have to spend money to buy the property at fair market value. Financing for the purchase -- expected to come from state, county and township sources — would have to be lined up for Winslow to successfully sue and take the property through eminent domain.

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