Eminent domain concerns persist: Trenton NJ Times, 10/6/06

By Eva Loayza

The proposed ordinances that hold the key to a development proposed for the Champale Redevelopment Area in the South Ward [of Trenton] and have pit residents against the city in a debate over eminent domain had to be reintroduced during last night's council meeting because there was an error in the wording.

The council unanimously introduced several ordinances last month that, if approved, would have allowed the city to enter into negotiations to buy several properties or to use eminent domain to acquire the properties.

The ordinances apply to portions or entire properties on Centre and Lamberton streets. They are needed for the balance of an 84-unit condominium project being proposed by K. Hovnanian for the Champale Redevelopment Area.

Dennis Gonzalez, assistant business administrator and acting director of housing, said he made a mistake in the wording of the ordinances. The properties are in the Champale Redevelopment Area, not the Lamberton Street Redevelopment Area as it was indicated in the ordinances that the council voted to introduce Sept. 21.

The council again voted unanimously yesterday to introduce the corrected ordinances. The public hearing for the ordinances is set for the Oct. 19 council meeting at Washington Elementary School, 331 Emory Ave.

Before voting to introduce the ordinances, South Ward Councilman Jim Coston said if the residents who live on the affected properties are not satisfied with what the city is offering them prior to when council has to vote on the ordinances, he would vote no. "That's my threshold," said Coston.

Coston had his share of support yesterday from South Ward residents.

Coston caught flak from West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue and Councilman-at-large Manny Segura during Tuesday's council meeting after changing his stance on the proposed ordinances. Lartigue said Coston had indicated he supported the project and wanted it to move forward. Lartigue asked him to join her in a sidebar where she was heard asking why he had changed his mind about the project.

Thomas Reeves of Centre Street told council members he voted for Coston because he said he would represent residents and said Coston had the right to change his mind and said he objected to "back-room politics" and also said "screaming and hollering doesn't look good."

Lartigue said she did not want people to think that Coston was the only one who cared for his constituents. Lartigue objected to Reeve's representation of back- room politics, and said that from time to time council members have sidebars and that while council members may disagree, "we stand with you."

Ernest Perez Jr., who faces losing property he owns on Centre Street, said he has invested much in the city not just as an investor, but as a resident of 24 years. Perez said he doubted the developer lives in the city, and asked council members to do some soul searching, and maybe visit the community and talk to affected property owners before voting on the ordinances. "Remember you are dealing with community people," said Perez.

Chan Kong, who also faces losing property, said he would be willing to give up his property if he is compensated properly. If the city is going to benefit from the project, "I'd like to benefit too," he said.

Trenton NJ Times: http://www.nj.com