Eminent domain off the map in Harrison: Gloucester County NJ Times, 11/17/06

By Matthew Ralph

The [Harrison NJ] township planning board inserted language specifically opposing eminent domain in an open space and recreation plan Thursday, after hearing concerns over a map of proposed greenways along environmentally sensitive areas included in the plan.

The amended plan, originally presented to the board by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) more than a year ago, will be included in recommendations the planning board will eventually propose to the township committee as part of an ongoing master plan review process.

The open space plan was one of several items the planning board reviewed at the first of at least two public meetings for the master plan review held Thursday night at the Toscano Center at Clearview Regional High School. About 150 people attended the meeting, which included a presentation about a proposed Richwood Town Center and a discussion of raising minimum lot sizes. A second public meeting to discuss the master plan review is scheduled for Nov. 27.

Several residents in attendance raised concerns over the greenway map, which was characterized by officials as a "guideline" and "wish list" to use for future conservation and open space planning.

Andrew Worick, who owns a horse farm on North Main Street, said he was concerned that having his property included on the greenway map would diminish its value and encourage trespassing. He said he was also concerned about what he characterized as a vague and open-ended map.

"I'm not ready to have (my property) tampered with unless you tell me something more definite," Worick said, expressing a concern that the map would open up the door for possible use of eminent domain in the future.

Other property owners who spoke expressed concern that the greenway would open the door for trails to be forced upon private land owners.

"What scares me is the power a guideline has," said Bernadette Simonetti, a High Street resident.

Suzanne McCarthy, a planner for DVRPC, said the greenway map would not take away any rights from property owners, but rather guide the township in approaching land owners to discuss preservation. She said any action within the greenway would have to be done strictly on a voluntary basis.

"Greenways are not a trail," McCarthy said. "It doesn't involve the taking of land. The open space plan is a pre-approved list of land that could be preserved."

Mayor Phil Rhudy, who sits on the planning board, suggested the inclusion of language in the open space that eminent domain would not be used to preserve any properties included in the greenway map. The plan already included an action plan outlining a preference for property acquisition using open space funds.

The township started a land preservation committee earlier this year that has already successfully negotiated with three property owners using money from a dedicated municipal open space tax to purchase easements and additional features of property to add to the pool of money offered by state and county preservation programs.

Gloucester County NJ Times: http://www.nj.com/news/gloucester