Belmar councilman seeks eminent domain ban: Asbury Park NJ Press, 1/4/07

Mayor: Mailers sparked fears

By Erik Larsen

An ordinance prohibiting the mayor and Borough Council [of Belmar NJ] from using eminent domain to acquire any owner-occupied home for redevelopment purposes is being proposed by the town's newest councilman.

Matthew J. Doherty, who took office Monday, said he wants to calm fears in town that the governing body has a redevelopment agenda broader than current plans to rebuild much of the commercial downtown from Main Street to 10th Avenue.

Although the borough's redevelopment plans never included homes, Doherty said residents remain fearful that the present or a future administration could expand redevelopment into Belmar's neighborhoods.

While campaigning this past fall, Mayor Kenneth E. Pringle said he and Doherty, his running mate, were surprised at the anxieties expressed over fears that the Borough Council would use eminent domain to take private homes.

"I want people in Belmar to know that no one's house is under threat," Doherty said. "They brought it up to me because it was a concern. We have a decent-sized senior population in town, and many of them own nice, little houses. With all this big redevelopment coming through, the question they had was: "Are you going to take my home?' "

The fears stemmed — apparently in part — from mail 80 to 90 Belmar residents outside the redevelopment zone accidentally received from an area lawyer offering to represent them should they find themselves subject to eminent domain proceedings, Pringle said. The letters should only have been sent to business owners within the redevelopment zone, he said.

No businesses in the redevelopment zone, which extends from the Shark River to 10th Avenue along Main Street, have been targeted by eminent domain, although Pringle has not ruled out using it.

"We have no interest in condemning homes, and although we said it, the residents were nervous about it," Pringle said. "Matt has an idea of doing an ordinance to put it out of bounds. He's already circulating language for it."

Pringle and Doherty said the ordinance would not be extended to commercial properties, because it would eliminate certain tax credits due commercial property owners who sell their lands or businesses in areas legally declared blighted, as in the case of Belmar's redevelopment zone.

Doherty, who was an assistant vice president at a Bank of New York branch in Manasquan, resigned Oct. 31 from his position to start a new brokerage in town called Doherty Mortgage. The firm is located on Main Street in the same building as InfoLoop LLC, a Pringle-owned business, which produces database software for municipalities and political campaigns. The building is not owned by Pringle.

Doherty said he is aware there is a risk of the appearance of a conflict of interest in selling mortgages to future home buyers within the redevelopment zone while he will be empowered as an elected official to vote on residential matters in the zone. He said he will seek a legal opinion from the borough on what he should do.

"I don't want there to be the slightest perception of any conflict," Doherty said.

Doherty said if it were up to him, he would prohibit himself from selling mortgages to anyone who wanted to buy a home in the redevelopment zone. However, state and federal anti-discrimination laws would probably prevent him from doing so, he said.

Doherty also announced Wednesday that he would not draw a salary from his councilman position.

Borough Clerk Margaret D. Plummer said Wednesday that council members are paid $3,500 per year paid out in $134.62 installments every two weeks. As mayor, Pringle is paid $4,800 per year.

Plummer said Doherty has conveyed his intention to the borough not to draw the stipend. However, he must declare his intentions in writing in order for the borough to terminate benefits, she said.

Asbury Park NJ Press: http://www.app.com