Judge - Long Branch tenant can't challenge eminent domain: Asbury Park NJ Press, 3/3/07

Landlords have agreed to sell property to city

By Carol Gorga Williams

Long Branch tenant William A. Nordahl, fighting the city's right to use eminent domain to take the property he rents, deserves his day in court, his lawyer Barbara J. Gonos told Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson Friday.

No, actually, he doesn't, Lawson replied. The judge — who last June upheld the city's right to take properties in the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue area where Nordahl lives — dismissed Nordahl's complaint seeking to block the condemnation of the property at 67 Marine Terrace.

When Gonos tried to develop the anti-eminent domain argument, the judge told her, "that's in the appellate division, we talked about that months ago. He doesn't have standing to argue this."

Nordahl, whom many credit as the organizing force that led to the creation of MTOTSA, the lobbying group that has marshaled anti-eminent domain forces in the city, is not part of the MTOTSA lawsuit currently on appeal.

Owners Mark and Kathleen Sauve had been interested in participating in a "friendly condemnation," which would have required the judge to appoint commissioners to determine the value of the property.

But ultimately, City Attorney Paul V. Fernicola said, the city and the owners came to terms, so the commissioners were not needed.

Gonos had argued that under the eminent domain statute, Nordahl would be entitled to 90 days notice to vacate, but under the state's tenant protections, he would be entitled to 18 months notice. In some circumstances, he could be entitled to as long as three years notice, she said.

The judge noted that Nordahl is entitled to relocation assistance from the city. Fernicola said the city was willing to let Nordahl stay in the apartment as long as the MTOTSA appeal is ongoing, provided Nordahl does not use that as a defense for continuing to stay if the city prevails.

"What case do you have that says a tenant can stop an owner from proceeding in a condemnor action?" Lawson asked. "I know New Jersey is a tenant state, but I don't know (if) we've gotten to the point where the tenant runs a condemnor action."

The city has made a deal with the Sauves to sell two properties in the MTOTSA zone, 67 Marine Terrace and 72 Ocean Terrace. The city agreed to pay $450,000 for one and $650,000 for the other, Fernicola said.

Lawson did not want to revisit the anti-eminent domain position, saying he heard it in the MTOTSA case that was argued in his court last March.

"I spent roughly 15 days in that neighborhood," Lawson said. "I went down those streets in different cars so no one would recognize me . . . I looked at those individual homes. I want the record to reflect that."

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