Eminent domain divides Long Branch: Long Branch NJ Atlanticville, 9/21/06

Biddle declines to state her position on eminent domain

By Christine Varno

The deep divisions among residents wrought by the city's [of Long Branch NJ] pursuit of redevelopment were evident in the flared tempers and clashing political views that surfaced at last week's council meeting.

Council chambers were crowded Sept. 12 with residents from different areas of the city, some opposing and others supporting the City Council's use of eminent domain to take private homes for private redevelopment projects.

And some residents turned to the council for answers, pressing the newly appointed councilwoman to weigh in on the issue.

Councilwoman Jackeline Biddle declined to state where she stood on eminent domain at the meeting, answering, "I do not choose to use this venue for any political views," when asked about eminent domain.

Biddle was appointed in August to fill former Councilman John "Fazz" Zambrano's vacated seat until the November election, at which time Biddle has said she will seek election to serve the term which expires in June 2010.

"If an issue came up between now and November, I would be prepared to make that decision," Biddle said. "I have not had the opportunity to address it."

Resident Jimmy Keelen, Belmont Avenue, said, "Your view, Ms. Biddle, is called sitting on the fence."

Another city resident, who has been fighting for the past three years to save his home in the Beachfront North Phase II redevelopment zone from being taken, said it is Biddle's duty to let her constituents know her view on eminent domain.

"[Eminent domain] is the biggest issue in this city ever," William Giordano, an MTOTSA (Marine and Ocean terraces and Seaview Avenue) resident, said at the meeting.

"You are in public office now. You are a public official. You need to have an opinion on this," Giordano said.

"The other people who are running [in the November municipal election] already expressed their opinion. It is time for you to do that."

Another resident in the Beachfront South redevelopment zone agreed.

"As a City Council member, you are also a member of the redevelopment agency," Diana Multaire, North Bath Avenue, said to Biddle.

"We are not talking about political views, we are talking about your role on the redevelopment agency," she said. "I am disappointed that you do not have a point of view on eminent domain."

Biddle responded, "I think not having a point of view and not sharing it are two different things," adding that when an issue involving eminent domain appears on the council agenda, she will make her opinion public.

Beachfront South resident Harold Bobrow on the other hand was not hesitant to share his opinion on eminent domain and said, "[City officials] are economically segregating this city.

"What you are doing with eminent domain abuse is both morally and ethically corrupt."

But a number of residents at the council meeting said that they are more than satisfied with the changes in Long Branch.

"I regret the abuse of this public portion," Joy Bastelli, North Fifth Avenue, said. "These meetings have become a circus," she said and added, "Thank you [council] for representing my well-being as a resident of the city."

Cecile Mazza, Cedar Avenue, also said she supports the redevelopment effort spearheaded by Mayor Adam Schneider and the current administration.

"[I am here] to express my appreciation for this City Council," she said. "The oceanfront, which is the jewel of Long Branch, looks magnificent."

She continued, "People all over town are maintaining and fixing up their homes. Developers are moving forward. We are back on the map again."

"[The council] up here has a duty to do what's best for the majority," Mazza said. "Congratulations to this administration for a job well done."

Mazza also referred to the MTOTSA neighborhood as an area once located near crack houses and added that the homes only became desirable because of the oceanfront redevelopment.

Denise Hoagland, who owns a home on Ocean Terrace, objected, saying, "{Mazza] has never been in my neighborhood. We are a community where we share meals together. This woman knows nothing of my neighborhood."

Keelen, whose home and business on Belmont Avenue are located in one of the city's redevelopment zones, added that Mazza and several other city residents supporting redevelopment are "not losing [your] homes or your business."

"And my business and my home are well maintained," Keelen said.

He added that eminent domain could be used in anyone's neighborhood next.

Councilman David Brown responded, "[The council] does not have the right to take anyone's home if it is not in a redevelopment zone.

"This council does not disapprove, discourage or disrespect the citizens. We are not being disrespectful," Brown said.

Hoagland said, "Mr. Brown, you are stealing our homes. Show me the money. Show me where the City of Long Branch is benefiting. Show me, where is the respect there?"

Beachfront South resident Anton DeLuca told the council, "I am 17 years old and I am going through losing my home.

"This is my first meeting here. Have any of you ever read the Constitution of the United States? You think taking my house so other people can live there when you build condos is a public use?

"Mr. Schneider, what would you do if you were me? Would you fight?" DeLuca asked.

Schneider said the city's use of eminent domain fits within the guidelines of the state constitution.

"I would have gotten involved earlier," the mayor said.

Long Branch NJ Atlanticville: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com