B’ville OK’s possible use of eminent domain law for Mount Airy tract: Bernardsville (NJ) News, 5/24/06

By David Polakiewicz

While it may never come to pass, the [Bernardsville} Borough Council Monday night authorized the possible use of eminent domain to acquire a three-quarter-acre Mount Airy Road property adjacent to a municipal parking lot.

The authorization, given in an ordinance adopted by the council, may spur negotiations between the council and the property’s current owner, Mountainside attorney Richard Kress.

Eminent domain is when a municipality, citing a public need, forces a landowner to sell it property at market value. The sale price is determined by a third party with real estate expertise.

The ordinance states that if acquired, the parcel would be used for a pocket park. But two audience members Monday questioned whether there might be safety problems by creating a place for children to play adjacent to busy Mount Airy Road.

Councilman Mikael Salovaara said that while he favored giving the borough power to use eminent domain, he continued to have an “open mind” about how to use the parcel, if acquired.

Kress purchased the 22 Mount Airy Road parcel from former owners William Jr. and Emily Howlett on March 10 for $519,000. The Howletts, now in their 80s, and a tenant moved out last July after borough building officials ordered them out pending renovations. The two-family Victorian-style house on the property had become rundown over the years, and the town feared for the occupants’ safety. They had owned the property since 1953.

The borough advanced the eminent domain ordinance several weeks ago after hearing concerns from former Mayor Peter Palmer, who lives on Prospect Street, adjacent to Kress’ parcel. Palmer said he feared intensification of the use of the property based on Kress’ expressed desire to build townhouses there.

Now a Somerset County freeholder, Palmer said he would fight a townhouse plan if it went before the Board of Adjustment. The tract is zoned for single-family use.

Both Palmer and Kress attended Monday’s public hearing on the ordinance, but neither commented. The council approved the ordinance by a 5-0 vote with Councilman Lee Honecker recusing himself. Honecker, an attorney, did so because he once represented a client who sought to purchase the property from the Howletts.

Bernardsville News: http://www.zwire.com