Eminent domain imminent? Trenton NJ Trentonian, 10/20/06

Lamberton Street project wins vote, fueling more opposition

By L A Parker

An ordinance that could eventually allow the City of Trenton to implement eminent domain as a tool for property acquisition won support by a 5-2 vote for the one property blocking an 84-unit condominium by power developer K.Hovnanian.

That vote last night caused a domino effect as unanimous decisions were voiced for the city to enter into negotiations with 11 other property owners whose homes or yards exist in the Lamberton and Centre street area.

K.Hovnanian plans to build most of its expansive project on a nearby vacant Champale factory site.

Antoinette Shelton, who owns a house on Lamberton Street but lives in Yardville, first addressed City Council at Washington Elementary School before scores of others, mostly against any idea of eminent domain, followed.

Shelton accused Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer of "lying from day one."

"He said that no one would lose their homes....This project could be built without taking our property,’’ Shelton said.

Shelton and her husband Ed potentially could lose part of their yard and a row of five garages should the City plan continue.

South Ward Councilman Jim Coston, who joined North Ward Councilman Milford Bethea as dissenting voters, said that K.Hovnanian should build around the Shelton property.

Coston also noted that the Sheltons had contributed $500 for his successful city council campaign which ousted incumbent John Ungrady.

"It’s in my elect report and on my blog,’’ Coston, who said he was "conflicted’’ about the project, said.

Other project detractors included failed mayoral candidates Tony Mack and Frank Weeden.

Mack predicted eminent domain gone mad saying that approval of these ordinances would cultivate similar concerns throughout Trenton.

"If City Council approves this then look out East Ward. Look out North. Look out West,’’ Mack warned.

Weeden accused the Administration of poor planning and communication.

"This wasn’t necessary. The city could have had a good project without taking this property,’’ Weeden said.

While most residents expressed disappointment with eminent domain, others supported a project that is being billed as a premium revitalization initiative that could expand beyond the South Ward.

"This is a significant development in the history of our city, significant because we will have a nationally recognized residential builder performing work in Trenton,’’ said Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Harmon.

Harmon, another mayoral candidate who in May lost to fifth-term Mayor Palmer, said the project has legs.

"The success of this project should not be addressed in the context of the South Ward only. As a community, we must look at the overall impact this project will have on the potential of our entire city,’’ said Harmon.

Centre Street homeowner Jeanette Rosie said she is happy with her settlement with the city and ready to move on.

"They offered me a price that I thought was pretty good. I’m just too old to take care of this house on my own,’’ Rosie said.

"I’m 68 years old and have lived in this house since I was seven. This is my big chance to get out."

Shelton said she may consider a lawsuit to block the City Council decision.

Trenton NJ Trentonian: http://www.zwire.com