Judge's ruling could awaken eminent domain battle in Camden: Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier Post, 6/15/06

By Alan Guenther

Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel today permitted the city [of Camden NJ] to build affordable housing in the Cramer Hill section, which could reawaken the issue of eminent domain.

"This is a major victory for our city," said Randy Primas, the state-appointed chief operating officer. "We are very pleased with this decision because it allows us to provide a far better quality of housing for the citizens of Camden."

But Olga Pomar of South Jersey Legal Services said Kassel's decision could allow the city to take up to 43 homes from residents in the Cramer Hill section. About a dozen of those homeowners have fought the city's right to take property from people who oppose redevelopment. Pomar said she will likely appeal Kassel's decision.

The new affordable homes will be built by the Michaels Development Co. of Marlton. Primas was formerly a business partner in the firm.

In the wake of the judge's decision, it remains unclear how many homes will be built, and how many could be taken. Ed Weirauch, spokesman for the Camden Redevelopment Agency, said about 140 units will be built, which would require the city to take some homes from residents who don't want to sell.

But a scaled-down version of the affordable housing plan is also being considered by the city. If Michaels Development Co. builds 78 units instead of 140, no homes would have to be taken, Pomar said.

Pomar had filed suit against the Michaels' development because it was originally part of the Cramer Hill redevelopment plan, which would have displaced 1,200 families while building 6,000 new homes. But when the Cramer Hill plan was thrown out by Kassel on a technicality, the city asked for permission to move forward with the construction of the affordable housing.

The city also has said it will re-introduce the Cramer Hill plan so that it will not displace so many people.

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