Eminent domain closed? Bridgeton NJ News, 3/7/07

By Jaime Marine

[Millville NJ] City commission will not adopt an ordinance banning the use of eminent domain.

Those were the words of Vice Mayor Joe Derella Tuesday night as he addressed recent concerns over the redevelopment tool and a petition submitted by watchdog group Millville First on Feb. 20.

The petition asked commissioners to pass an ordinance banning eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer or private development.

"Despite the vocal support for eminent domain by residents of our Center City neighborhoods, we have stated that we will not take a single-family house for private development," Derella said. "Eminent domain is an emotional topic.

"Select an emotional topic, wave the flag of fear and then point the finger of blame. That is what occurs when someone wants to play politics or has a personal agenda."

To finalize their position on the petition, signed by over 1,100 voters, the commission passed a resolution stating the proposed ordinance is not subject to initiative, the city clerk does not have to verify the signatures, and that the redevelopment process is not subject to ordinance through voter initiative.

The vice mayor cited a project 40 years ago which proposed the city acquire a 15.5-acre tract of land in the Middle Avenue-West Main Street area.

Known as the Riverview Redevelopment project, it displaced 57 families, 14 single individuals and eight businesses in an attempt to help rebuild and revitalize the most congested and decayed city areas, he said. The city had the responsibility to relocate the families and businesses into suitable locations.

During this project, William Shaw was the mayor and Paul Porreca, now a member of Millville First, was the commissioner of revenue and finance.

"You can look out of the windows of the commission chamber and see the riverview redevelopment project, a great example of private, public and commercial results," Derella said. "Similar to the Riverview Development project, the Union Lake Crossing Project required the acquisition of seven privately-owned properties.

"Unfortunately, after several months of negotiations, two properties were taken by eminent domain. One property, the animal clinic eventually came to terms and was not taken through eminent domain."

He noted Dr. Harold Blumenthal received two times the assessed value of his property and has been relocated to Sharp Street. The other property condemned was the site of a billboard.

"Similar to the Riverview Development Project, Union Lake Crossing will generate $22 million in tax revenue over 15 years vs. the $1.5 million that would have been generated by the seven existing businesses over the same period," he said. "This commission can only hope that Union Lake Crossing can be considered a successful project after 40 years."

Millville First President Emil Van Hook had questioned why the city couldn't pass their ordinance banning eminent domain after it passed what he said were similar ones for the motorsports park and single-family, owner-occupied homes.

Derella said these are all different situations.

"Once a redevelopment project has been completed in a particular area of a designated redevelopment area, the enhanced power of eminent domain provided by state constitution and statutes no longer exists, because that blight in that particular area has been eliminated," he said. "That is why state statute requires this language be incorporated in a municipal development agreement."

When contacted after the meeting, Van Hook said the group is not ruling out the possibility of legal action.

He said commissioners have still failed to address eminent domain in respect to privately owned businesses or other types of properties, aside from single-family, owner-occupied homes.

Van Hook said the city could still hold a non-binding referendum to see how the people feel about the issue.

Porreca said while he considers the issue closed, he took exception to the comment about personal and political agendas.

He said he is not running for office and was only concerned about the community and how things are done.

Bridgeton NJ News: http://www.nj.com/news/bridgeton