Action due on bills that ease sting of eminent domain: NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ, 3/14/07

By Hugh R Morley

Business leaders are hoping for progress Thursday on legislation that would better compensate businesses forced to relocate through eminent domain proceedings.

The state Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee will review two bills that increase the amount a municipality would have to pay an ousted business, and aim to make the process more transparent.

Sen. Ronald L. Rice, D-Newark, the sponsor of one of the bills, said his legislation reflects comments aired by business leaders in four public hearings last summer. The bill (S-1975), though wide-ranging, has "a strong focus on transparency, notice, and just and fair compensation for small businesses," he said. It was introduced in June.

Current law allows a municipality to condemn properties needed for a public use, such as building a bridge or a school, or developing houses or a commercial complex, and compensate the owners.

Yet the law offers almost no compensation to a business that leases or rents premises, said David Brogan, a vice president for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which supports parts of the two bills.

The most a business can get is $2,500 to $10,000 for relocation assistance, he said.

Brogan said Rice outlined amendments to his bill last week that would require a municipality to pay more relocation assistance than under the current law, with the amount increasing steadily for three years after the law is enacted.

The proposed law would require a municipality to pay $3,750 to $15,000 in the first year, and $7,500 to $22,500 in the second year, Brogan said. The third year payments would range from $11,250 to $45,000, and they would subsequently rise in line with the Consumer Price Index, he said.

The Rice bill also would require the municipality to compensate for the lost value of the business, Brogan said. That would mean paying a business that had to relocate to an area with less pedestrian traffic or transportation, for instance, he said.

A second bill, (A-3257), sponsored by Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, would require municipalities to pay relocation assistance in line with the Rice bill, but would also pay the relocated businesses for loss of "goodwill," Brogan said.

Both bills allow the business owner to appeal the amount offered for relocation assistance to the courts, he said.

They also would require several public hearings on an eminent domain proposal, and wider notification of those affected, he said. The Rice bill, for instance, would notify commercial leaseholders, which does not happen now.

The Burzichelli bill was backed by the Assembly last year, but has not moved in the Senate. Rice's bill also has not moved out of committee in the Senate.

Rice said the bill is likely to be amended Thursday and merged with the Burzichelli bill.

NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ: http://www.northjersey.com