By David M. Kinchen
The fallout from last summer’s Kelo vs. the City of New London U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain – called by some the worst decision by the high court since Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896 – is roiling Long Branch, NJ., on the Atlantic Ocean south of New York City.
Courtesy of conservative radio and TV commentator Sean Hannity, who brought the Riviera Beach, FL eminent domain battle to national attention last year, the story focuses on a senior citizen and World War II veteran named Louis Anzalone. He bought his oceanfront house in 1960 for less than $30,000. Houses in the area are selling for more than $600,000, according to Anzalone, 89, and his son Tom, who appeared on the Hannity radio show. The show is broadcast on more than 500 radio stations across the nation. I listened to it on the Internet stream of WBAP talk radio in Dallas-Ft.Worth, TX.
Anzalone is not the only senior affected by the Jersey Shore city’s attempt to take their houses and build high-end condos and townhouses to boost the city’s tax base. Among the others: Arnold Giordano is 80. Rose La Rosa is 80. Anna DeFaria is 80 years. Lori Vendetti is 80. Lillian Anzalone – like her husband Lou – is 89. Al Viviano is 93. All of these senior citizens were originally from the City of Newark and now live in Long Branch, according to news reports.
Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider appeared on Tuesday’s Feb. 21, 2006 Sean Hannity radio program to defend the decision to use eminent domain to develop the “blighted” oceanfront of Long Branch. Houses would be condemned to build high-end condominiums and art galleries and upscale shops.
“We were a city that was on the brink of absolute bedlam,” he told Hannity. The market had failed to avoid the blight and crime on the ocean front properties, many of which had been converted to rooming houses. The oceanfront of the city had become the most dangerous part of the city, Schneider asserted. Even a strip club on the city’s beachfront closed because of the crime in the area, he added.
The often acrimonious conversation ended up with Hannity defending Anzalone who said he had been offered $304,000 for his tidy oceanfront house.
“What I said on Hannity and Colmes [on Fox News Channel] is I think we’ll win in court,” Schneider said on Tuesday’s radio program. Hannity, broadcasting from Miami, FL, had a phone link, allowing Anzalone to talk to Schneider. Anzalone told the mayor he’s going to fight to stay in the house. Tom Anzalone also challenged the city’s contention that the neighborhood was blighted. Schneider said within 100 yards of the house it was a “horror show.” They also got very “inside baseball,” when Hannity interrupted the exchange.
Hannity said the move represents the “big hand of the government” crushing people who’ve lived in his house for 46 years. Schneider said the move represents the rebuilding of the city over at least 10 years, dating back to 1996. The mayor said that most of the accepted offers came in at higher than the appraised value –$304,000 – in the case of the Anzalone transaction. The case will be heard in a New Jersey court on March 24, 2006, Tom Anzalone told Hannity.
Schneider said the city doesn’t make the offer…it’s made by the Hoboken, NJ-based developer. He told Hannity: “You’re simplifying things and losing the details. A few people have swapped for condos, which sell for about $500,000 each,” Schneider said, added that he’s a practicing attorney in the state of New Jersey.
“Why can’t you admit you’re going to kick an 89-year-old man out of his house,” said Hannity to Schneider in his best attack mode.
Anzalone’s house is one of about 36 residential properties and vacant lots the city of Long Branch wants to raze and turn into high-end condominiums. City officials are prepared to use eminent domain if necessary.
Property battles such as those in Long Branch have attracted renewed attention since the Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 in Kelo vs City of New London CT. that the Constitution does not forbid state and local governments from seizing homes for private development in return for fair compensation. The justices on the losing side of the 5-4 decision urged governments on the local and state level to pass legislation restricting such eminent domain takings. At least 40 states – and many local jurisdictions – have begun to do so, while some local governments – including the city of Long Branch – argue that it is a mistake to ban what can be a valuable tool for rejuvenating depressed neighborhoods.
"We're not taking this for a strip mall to bring a couple jobs in," said Howard Woolley, Long Branch's business administrator. "We're taking properties ... to redevelop the central core of the city."
The redevelopment effort in Long Branch includes far more than the 36 properties and so far has netted the city $1 billion in private development, 1,200 new residents and 500 jobs, Woolley estimated.
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