Camden Council affirms eminent domain powers: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 4/14/06

By Dwight Ott

By a 4-2 vote after spirited debate, [Camden NJ] City Council last night killed a measure that would have put a two-year halt on Camden's use of its eminent domain powers in its redevelopment plans.

The vote drew hisses and boos from some of the nearly 40 people in the audience.

The use of eminent domain - which forces property owners to sell their land for public use - has become a major tool in Camden's efforts to implement its multimillion-dollar, state-funded, five-year Recovery Act.

Camden is adopting redevelopment plans that cover the entire city, potentially exposing all property owners to displacement via eminent domain, according to Councilman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, who proposed the moratorium.

But he mustered support only from Councilman Ali Sloan El.

In a statement last night, Council President Angel Fuentes said the ordinance would have damaged revitalization efforts. He said Wilson and Sloan El were playing to residents' fears.

"To put a stop to everything with a rashly enacted moratorium... would be an incredible disservice to the residents and business entities," Fuentes said.

Councilwoman Dana Redd and Councilmen Frank Moran and Curtis Jenkins also voted against the moratorium.

Furthermore, Camden's state-appointed chief operating officer, Melvin R. "Randy" Primas Jr., had indicated he would have vetoed it.

Redd said last night: "No one wants to take anybody's property by eminent domain. We want to do it in a responsible way... . Responsible redevelopment is what we stand for."

Several lawsuits have tied up massive projects that call for the use of eminent domain in the Cramer Hill and Bergen Square neighborhoods.

Wilson said last night that he did not oppose redevelopment, but still had questions. He said he was especially concerned about seniors and others on fixed incomes who might not be able to afford the taxes if property values rose rapidly.

Sloan El said last night that governments across the country were reconsidering their use of eminent domain. "Thirty of the 50 states are putting together legislation against eminent domain," he said.

Although voting against the moratorium, Moran and Jenkins said Council needed to pay closer attention to the issue, particularly how it affects seniors and those on fixed incomes.

Philadelphia Inquirer: http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer