Lodi to fight ruling on eminent domain: Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, 10/12/05

By Ana M Alaya

Lodi officials plan to fight a judge's ruling rejecting the borough's proposal to replace two mobile home parks on Route 46 with upscale senior housing and shops.

The town lost the eminent domain battle last week when Superior Court Judge Richard Donohue ruled Lodi cannot condemn the trailer parks and that the redevelopment proposal is "vague."

Mayor Gary Paparozzi, who has said the redevelopment would generate sorely needed tax ratables and improve the Bergen County community's image, said yesterday that Lodi will either resubmit its plan or appeal Donohue's ruling.

"I'm not going to let that go without a fight," Paparozzi said. "It's just not right. Nowhere on Route 46 throughout the state is there a trailer park. We have to move forward. In Bergen County especially, mobile homes are an antiquated situation."

The owners of the Costa and Brown trailer parks, which house about 500 people combined, sued in 2004, claiming Lodi arbitrarily designated the 20-acre property for redevelopment.

The borough's redevelopment plan calls for Lodi 46 Renewal LLC to build a gated senior community with 250 housing units and 112,000 square feet of retail space. The project would bring in $3 million in annual tax revenue instead of the $250,000 the borough collects now, officials have said.

In his ruling, Donohue said he "appreciates" the borough's goal of generating tax revenue, but that such a goal requires the court to inspect the town's motives with "heightened scrutiny."

He also said that while the borough may have proposed a plan classified as a "public purpose" required by state eminent domain laws, its planners failed to prove the trailer park land is either obsolete, underutilized or meets other criteria necessary to be considered for redevelopment.

The judge said the town's planners failed to inspect the trailers, failed to identify health hazards and came up with "superficial" observations of the mobile homes and businesses on the property.

"In short, there was a complete lack of detailed specific proofs as to why the property should be designated as in need of redevelopment," Donohue said.

Kendell Kardt, a Costa Trailer Court resident and president of Save Our Homes, said residents were ecstatic over Donohue's ruling, but wary because they expect the town to fight. If redevelopment is allowed, residents could be forced to rent apartments since there is little trailer park space left in New Jersey, Kardt said.

Paparozzi said yesterday that the borough is a victim of the uproar over eminent domain generated by the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., decision earlier this year. In that case, the court ruled, 5-4, that municipalities have broad power to condemn people's property in favor of private development to generate tax revenue.

In his ruling, Donohue said the Kelo decision also precludes any state from placing further restrictions on eminent domain powers. He said he based his decision on New Jersey's statutes, which are stricter than Connecticut's.

Further, Donohue said he did not intend to judge New Jersey's statute or Lodi's political motives.

"This court's role is not to determine whether the actions taken by Lodi are sound decisions or effective governance, but rather, if Lodi has acted in accordance with the law," Donohue wrote in his decision.

Star-Ledger: www.nj.com