Eminent domain raises fears: (Camden NJ) Courier Post, 10/16/05

By Alan Guenther

As a child, Catherine Lewis saw the government take away her parents' property for a highway that was never built, and she doesn't want anyone else to have to go through what she experienced.

In Haddon Township, Pastor Elwood Healy, 78, said he's concerned that a local disabled man who relies on PATCO Hi-Speedline transportation will lose his home if government plans move forward.

"I would like people to be able to hold on to what they have," Healy said.

At issue is whether the government should be allowed to take property from people so that private developers can build something new.

Candidates in Camden County's 6th District state Assembly race say more controls may be needed.

Republicans Marc Fleischner and JoAnn Gurenlian say the government has been abusing eminent domain.

Under eminent domain, a landowner can be paid for property and removed from it as long as the government thinks it's in the public's interest.

"We're against the abuse of it, the overuse of it," said Gurenlian. That's why she has called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain until new laws and safeguards are in place.

The state constitution should be amended, she said, to make sure new protections cannot be removed.

Assembly Budget Chairman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Voorhees, and his running mate, Pamela Rosen Lampitt of Cherry Hill, would offer new protections but would not go as far as the Republicans.

The issue came up especially in Haddon Township, Greenwald said.

"Residents brought up the issue, and we reached out to them and offered to meet about their issues and concerns," he said. A person's right to own a home "should not ever be jeopardized" for the sake of "some private developer," Greenwald added.

But any new laws should be drafted carefully, he said. A single law "may not be one-size-fits-all."

But Lewis, now a resident of Cherry Hill, said she believes strong new protections must be enacted.

Lewis, 55, grew up in Chevy Chase, Md.

"The state took all the property around our home and just left us with our house," she said.

The Maryland officials were going to build a beltway to ease traffic.

Twenty years later, the government decided not to build the highway and tried to sell the land back — at more than double the price the state paid for it.

That's why, Lewis said, whenever she hears the term eminent domain, she is concerned. She's been following eminent domain projects in Haddon Township and in the Cramer Hill section of Camden.

"Having lived through it, I really feel for those people," she said. "At least when they took our property, it was to build an inner loop of the highway. In this area, they want to take the land and give it to private developers who'll make money."

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