7/16/2006

Eminent domain deadline comes, but family stays put: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 7/11/06

By Gene Racz

The Halpers remained on their [Piscataway NJ] farm Monday night, defying an eviction notice after indicating earlier in the day they had planned to leave.

"Until they come and boot us out, we're still here," Zac Halper, 16, said at 10:30 Monday night. "It's our home, our land."

The teen said his parents, Clara and Larry Halper, were unavailable — his mother was at a taping of "Hannity & Colmes" while his father was out getting something to eat.

It was a different scene earlier Monday when the Halpers gave the appearance they planned to leave the 75-acre Piscataway farm on the day they were being evicted after a long battle with Middlesex County and township officials.

Minutes before Monday's 3 p.m. deadline set by the New Jersey Supreme Court, Clara Halper was moved to tears. As she and her family scrambled to gather their belongings in the midday heat, one of the many people she met throughout what has been a seven-year ordeal showed up at her doorstep.

Lisa Valle, a township resident who came to know and support Clara Halper in her struggle to keep the farm and business from being taken under eminent domain laws, hugged her, told her she was sorry, and gave her a necklace of her patron saint, St. Michael, that read "Pray for Us."

"I took this family into my heart, as should every American," said Valle.

A modest gathering had lingered throughout the day — friends, acquaintances, neighbors and some opponents of the eminent domain laws that were at the root of the family's eviction after legal wrangling with Middlesex County and the township.

The Halpers contend that the process was rife with conflicts of interest and that parts of the negotiations were not done in good faith.

Piscataway plans to use the property for passive recreation with an arboretum, gazebos, a dog park, several tree nurseries, and jogging and bike paths, according to plans presented in February.

Township officials have maintained the Halper property is an eyesore and has not been actively farmed for years. They also have said the cleanup and preservation of the property as open space is in the best interests of the majority of Piscataway residents.

Behind the scenes Monday, the Halpers' attorney, Barbara Schwartz, was in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, trying to get a restraining order on the eviction. She was denied the ability to file the motion, according to someone familiar with the proceedings who asked not to be identified.

The case may be appealed further to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Asbury Park Press: www.app.com