Allendale town house foes want town to weigh eminent domain: NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ, 3/22/07

By Allison Pries

Residents are hoping to enlist the help of the mayor and council to preserve farmland that is slated for town houses.

They are circulating a petition that asks the governing body to negotiate with the owners of the 3-acre property at West Orchard Street and Franklin Turnpike.

If a compromise cannot be reached with owners Ramon and Patricia Alvarez, Councilman Jim Strauch said eminent domain should be pursued to preserve the land. Calls to Mayor Vince Barra and Borough Administrator Les Shenkler were not returned Wednesday.

Last month the Planning Board approved a 24-unit town house complex for the site after the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to move a flood line several feet.

The property was once part of a 5½-acre estate that was divided among three siblings 32 years ago. The land in question was used to grow wheat, hay and corn for horses the family kept.

Residents have been fighting the proposed development, dubbed Orchard Commons, for four years, saying it's too dense and would be an eyesore because the back yards of some units would face Franklin Turnpike.

The land has been appraised at $3.5 million.

"That number wouldn't fly," said Joseph Perconti, a lawyer who represents the Alvarezes. He said the couple would want "closer to $6 million."

Depending on price and the closing time, "we would certainly entertain reasonable offers," Perconti said.

Strauch, a member of the open space committee who is leading the charge to preserve the land, said paying $4 million would be reasonable.

"I think we'd lose a lot of supporters at $5 million," he said, adding that the property is already appraised higher than most in town because it is zoned for affordable housing.

The condemnation threat is because there is concern the owner will reject every offer, Strauch said.

"I don't think anybody wants to go that route," he said. "In this case it's the lesser of two evils - 24 units on 3 acres or eminent domain."

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