Eminent domain not over: Bridgeton NJ News, 2/27/07

By Jaime Marine

Representatives for Millville [NJ] First say they accept the fact a special election can't be held to deal with their eminent domain petition.

But President Emil Van Hook said during a press briefing Monday afternoon the city still needs to address the first part of the petition request, which asks commissioners to pass an ordinance banning eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer or private development.

The petition was submitted on Feb. 20 during the commission meeting.

"Contrary to what they would have you believe, the law does not forbid the commissioners from passing an ordinance," a statement issued by the local watchdog group said. "The commissioners should openly declare they will or will not adopt the petitioners' ordinance. That action is not only allowed, but required."

In a statement issued by Solicitor Rich McCarthy last Tuesday, he stated, "Any petitions which seek to adopt an ordinance or resolution, through initiative or referendum, to restrict or eliminate (eminent domain) in a designated redevelopment area are in direct contravention of state law.

"If presented with petitions of this type, you (the clerk's office) may receive and file them, but you are under no legal obligation to take further action notwithstanding any other law to the contrary."

Van Hook said any city commission should recognize a petition signed by over 1,100 voters.

"They have by ordinance banned condemnation at the request of the motorsports park, and they passed a resolution stating they would not condemn a single-family, owner-occupied home," the statement read. "There is no question, whatsoever, that if they had any desire to abide by the wishes of the signers of the petition, they have the power to do so."

Van Hook said they are not ruling out legal action, but said they are hoping to avoid it. The city has about 40 days to respond to the group's request.

"We really don't want to go there," he said, noting it would be costly.

Van Hook said the group disagrees with McCarthy's reported opinion that a non-binding referendum is prohibited by statute.

They added they would like to see the city use this tool to see how people feel about the issue.

"If it can be done for the developers, then why can't it be done for the people?" he asked. "The fact is, this issue will not go away."

McCarthy could not be reached for comment Monday.

City Clerk Lew Thompson said the petition is in the hands of the clerk's office, but said, under McCarthy's advice, they aren't required to take any further action on it.

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