11/10/2005

Eminent domain changes Westville board: Gloucester County (NJ) Times, 11/8/05

By Anne B. Jolis

Fear and anger over eminent domain remained a driving force in borough politics on Tuesday night as voters [in Westville] demanded new blood, ushering newcomers James Pennington Jr., Susan Rodgers and Woodrow Dooley into council and ousting incumbents Art Kelley and Fritz Sims.

Democrats Pennington and Dooley and Republican Rodgers all ran on the platform of opposing eminent domain abuse. The issue has polarized the borough since January when Council voted unanimously to include the homes and businesses in the Timber Park area in the borough's redevelopment zone.

The borough's developer, Fieldstone Associates, has yet to submit final plans for its projected waterfront shops, condos and townhouses. Council has said in the past that, if the proposal is acceptable, they stand ready to seize by eminent domain the properties of any home or business owners who can't come to an agreement with the developer.

By January, however, half of the six-member council will be made up of council members elected on the promise that they will oppose taking private property for this reason.

"It's a victory, but the people of Westville aren't safe yet," said Dooley, who will finish out the unexpired two-year term left open when former councilman Jay Renshaw moved out of state. "If there's a tie in the council, Mayor Packer acts as tie-breaker. He said he would use his vote to invoke eminent domain if he has to."

The Times was unable to confirm Packer's comments.

"The people don't want eminent domain as it stands today," said Rodgers who will step into a full three-year term. She added that whether she will support Fieldstone's plan at all remains to be seen. "They're against eminent domain abuse, against closed-door meetings, and they want to live in a democracy," said Rodgers of her supporters.

Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a sharply divided vote that seizing private property for economic development is constitutional.

"Mayor and the rest of the council could still abuse eminent domain, but we sent out a great message today to local politicians," said Dooley.

"You take our homes, we'll take your jobs."

Dooley explained that he supports the redevelopment plan to save the borough from "financial dire straits," but not the use of eminent domain as a tool.

Pennington, also elected to a full three-year term, was not available for comment.

According to the unofficial election results, Dooley beat incumbent Kelley by 868 to 374, Pennington garnered 577 votes, and Rodgers took 578 against Independent incumbent Sims' 370. Republican challenger Mark Styan took in 465 votes and Democratic challenger Charles Robbins tallied 401.

Neither Kelley nor Sims returned calls for comment after the unofficial results came in.

Kelley stated earlier in the day that Tuesday's election was one of the most important Westville has ever seen.

"It's very possible that if the incumbents don't win, the redevelopment will not go through," said Kelley.

"This election could basically mean the life or death of Westville."


Gloucester County Times: www.nj.com/news/gloucester