By Carol Gorga Williams
The [Long Branch NJ] City Council on Tuesday night authorized the use of all legal means necessary, including eminent domain, to acquire up to 57 lots in the Broadway redevelopment sector.
Up to two-thirds of the properties already are owned by the developers or the government, officials said, and, unlike in other sections, this project is aimed at commercial uses.
City Attorney James G. Aaron said the ordinance involves 57 properties, of which 30 to 35 are under contract with the developer.
Members of the council, which voted 5-to-0 to adopt the ordinance Tuesday night, said they heard the objectors' message but believe the revitalization of the business corridor is critical to the overall success of the redevelopment plan.
Council President Anthony Giordano said that when the council began meeting with the public on redevelopment issues 12 years ago, people said revitalizing Broadway should be a top priority. Broadway had been deteriorating for 30 years, Giordano said.
"The main business corridor, the number one industry, was dominated by go-go bars and massage parlors," he said. "That was the situation that had to be addressed."
Most of the businesses there are occupied by tenants although a few are owned and some of those owners have said they have issues with the way the city and the developer have handled negotiations.
Among those critics is Gobal Panday, who owns Rainbow Liquors and who wanted to bring his own $15 million redevelopment to the zone. He said he was rebuffed.
Panday doesn't believe he can negotiate freely with the threat of eminent domain dangling over his head.
"For the last 20 years, we've stuck here through thick and thin," Panday told the council. "We'd like to be a part of this development."
Another who has frequently criticized the city is the Rev. Kevin Brown, a potential mayoral candidate whose building at 162 Broadway is in the redevelopment zone.
Brown tried to qualify as a redeveloper for that building but also was rebuffed. In 2000, he sued the city over its refusal to allow him to operate a church or mission at the site. That portion of the lawsuit recently was dismissed although he is appealing.
In the meantime, he joined the New Jersey Coalition Against Eminent Domain Abuse. The coalition formed in February in Princeton to oppose the use of eminent domain and is calling for a boycott of the businesses of the redevelopers of the Broadway Arts Center.
"This ordinance is proof the local elected officials haven't gotten the message . . ." Brown said. "I believe it will be the last nail in your political coffin if you allow more eminent-domain abuse."
Lori Ann Vendetti, a member of the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue Alliance which has gone to court to block the taking of some homes in that area, said officials should allow the commercial area to revitalize naturally.
"Why don't you say, "No,' to this ordinance . . . and let people negotiate with these businesses on their own," Vendetti said. "Everyone knows Long Branch is the poster child for eminent domain abuse.
"Vote "No,' and let the revitalization occur on its own. It will happen."
The redevelopers/business owners include the Katz and the Siperstein families, who together own Siperstein's Paint and Decorating Centers, and the Pereira families, who own Pax Construction, among other properties. They are partners in the Broadway Arts Center, which will span Broadway between Second Avenue and Memorial Parkway, through Belmont and Union avenues.
Broadway Arts Center will feature two performing arts theaters, including a home for the New Jersey Repertory Company. The second theater will be housed in the old Paramount Theater, currently used by Siperstein's Paint and Decorating Center, which will relocate to Joline Avenue.
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