Owner seeking fair deal in eminent domain case: Asbury Park NJ Press, 8/22/06

The three-story Elm Avenue rooming house [in Rahway NJ] Andrianna Karagiannis and her family owned is scheduled to be torn down soon to make way for Park Square, a downtown residential and retail redevelopment project.

But Karagiannis says she hasn't been fully compensated for the building. She said $335,000 has been placed in escrow for the house. She maintains the building is worth more. An appraisal she authorized indicated the property is worth more than $500,000.

"We're fighting for more money," said Karagiannis, who earned about $65,000 a year in income from the building. "It was a top rooming house in Rahway."

A hearing is set for tomorrow to determine the value of the property, according to Peter H. Pelissier, Rahway Redevelopment Agency executive director.

According to Pelissier, the building is listed by the city tax assessor as a two-family dwelling, and he believes it may have been converted to a three-family home in the late 1980s, although it had been operating as a boarding house.

Karagiannis said the building was a legal boarding house. She said her late husband obtained the license in Trenton in 1971 and she renewed it annually.

"It's not a two-family. It was always a boarding house," she said.

Karagiannis said her family has owned the 43 Elm Ave. building, located between Main and Irving streets, since 1971 when her husband, James, who came with her to Rahway in 1960, bought it. Her husband died in 1972. At age 37, she was left to raise her two young children, Maria and Alexander, by herself. She used the income from the boarding house and the diner the family owned in Rahway to raise her children.

A native of Greece, Karagiannis said the building has eight rooms and one three-bedroom apartment. She said each room had a bed, bureau for clothes and a refrigerator. A kitchen shared by tenants was located on the first floor. Tenants also shared three bathrooms. The three-bedroom apartment had its own kitchen and bathroom, she said. Tenants paid about $130 a week in rent.

"I had 11 tenants living here in this house for years and years," she said last Wednesday while standing outside the house. She said one tenant, Fernando Mendoza, served as the building superintendent.

Karagiannis said the tenants were like a family.

But Pelissier said the house was in "deplorable condition" when people lived there.

But Karagiannis said she didn't have any problems until the tenants were told to leave and some broke her furniture. She has not been able to get back into the building to retrieve the remaining furniture.

"It was very clean, my property," she said.

Pelissier said some of the tenants were relocated to Section 8 housing.

The former boarding house, with boarded windows and doors, is the only structure standing in the large empty block bordered by Main and Irving streets, Elm and Elizabeth avenues where Cliff Hardware, Anthony's key shop, a thrift shop, gas station and some homes were located.

The property is being redeveloped into 159 housing units and 6,000 square feet of retail space.

Mayor James Kennedy said work is being done on the soil in preparation for the foundations to be poured on the front part of the property.

Karagiannis, 75, said she's lost her only income, other than the Social Security she receives.

Karagiannis, who previously lost the family-owned Super Diner, 1419 Irving St., to redevelopment in the city, said she feels like a victim in town.

"I'm very upset. I never did anything wrong. I paid my taxes, $1,200 in taxes every three months. I did pay my bills. I obeyed the rules," she said. "It's unfair to say, "we have to take your property.' This is the second of my property they take. They take property like this, why?" she said.

Asbury Park NJ Press: www.app.com