2nd bill aims to set limits on eminent domain: Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post, 2/22/07

By Richard Pearsall

To all the other disagreements that swirl around eminent domain, add a territorial tiff in the Legislature over whose bill gets top billing.

Rather than take up a reform bill that passed the Assembly by a wide margin last summer (56-18, with 11 abstentions) the state Senate will begin considering a bill of its own Monday.

Concern about eminent domain in New Jersey has been building for years, fueled by rapid growth in a number of communities - rich, poor and in between - that have created redevelopment zones.

That concern became alarm in the summer of 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in a Connecticut case, Kelo v. New London, that government can take property from one owner and give it to another simply to promote economic development.

In June 2006, one year after Kelo, the state Assembly passed a bill aimed at reforming the state law governing eminent domain.

That bill, sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, tightens the criteria for finding properties "in need of redevelopment," and increases compensation for people displaced, among other provisions.

It gets a good grade from the state Public Advocate's Office, which has taken a keen interest in the issue.

"We're pretty happy with the bill in that it limits the definition of blight," said Nancy Parello, a spokeswoman for the advocate.

Instead of taking up the Burzichelli bill as the basis for his own legislation, however, State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Newark, will introduce a bill of his own Monday at a session of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, which he chairs.

"I would have preferred the Assembly bill be the basis of their deliberations," Burzichelli said Wednesday as he waited for a draft of the Rice bill to arrive in his office. "I thought we established some pretty good standards.

"Hopefully Sen. Rice has stumbled on some things to improve it," Burzichelli said.

Rice said Wednesday he was not yet prepared to release a draft of his bill.

"I'm trying to put the final touches on it," he said.

He suggested, however, his bill will be "tougher" than the Burzichelli bill.

"My bill has some of his components, but I saw things differently," Rice said. "I've been at this a long time."

He said he believes Burzichelli, who began conducting hearings in February 2006, rushed his bill to passage.

A conference on redevelopment Wednesday sponsored by NJ Future, a coalition that supports redevelopment over sprawl, showcased the wide variety of opinions on what should and should not be done in terms of reforming eminent domain.

Edward McManimon, an attorney who represents the N.J. League of Municipalities, lamented that in the wake of Kelo "eminent domain" has become a "dirty word," something negative that people want to "get rid of."

"We can't have that," McManimon said, alluding to the progress that redevelopment has spurred.

Connie Pascal, an attorney for Legal Services of New Jersey, said what's missing from the reform efforts to date is a requirement that "the people in the community get the benefit" of community redevelopment, in both housing and employment.

Instead of being displaced, he said, "people in the community should have the right to stay there," and be afforded the training and opportunity to take any jobs created.

Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com