MTOTSA eminent domain case to be heard in Superior Court: Asbury Park NJ Press, 2/27/07

Owners sold house that was rented by a 40-year tenant

By Carol Gorga Williams

MTOTSA — the sequel — will play out Friday before Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson as the city faces off against William A. Nordahl, whom many credit as the creative force behind the anti-eminent domain lobbying group.

Nordahl, 69, a tenant who has lived in the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue area for more than 40 years, is fighting the city's attempts to get him to come to terms with the fact that his landlord has sold the building, effectively ending Nordahl's tenancy.

But according to Paul V. Fernicola, the city's attorney on the condemnation case, Long Branch is not seeking Nordahl's immediate eviction. Instead, it has offered to allow him to remain as long as the MTOTSA appeal remains an open question.

But Long Branch also wants Nordahl to agree that he will not use the city's willingness to let him remain temporarily as a defense when his eviction becomes a reality.

Nordahl, though his attorney, Barbara J. Gonos, is challenging the city's right to remove him and, in a lengthy brief, has raised many of the same issues raised last year by MTOTSA property owners before Lawson.

Nordahl claims he was not given proper notice that the plan for his area changed, from project where units would be erected on available land (called "infill") to planned residential community; he also claims the area is not blighted and that conflicts of interest on the city's side raise questions about the fairness of the eminent domain process.

"People expect the truth from their government," Gonos writes. "Without it, Democracy, government by and for the people, cannot function. People can only make good decisions about what's best for them and their community, and communicate those decisions to their representatives in government if they are told the truth. The city bases its authority to demolish Mr. Nordahl's neighborhood and replace it with three luxury condominium buildings on its 1996 redevelopment plan. Yet, nothing in the plan indicates the neighborhood would be demolished, and everything in the plan indicates that the homes therein will remain intact."

Fernicola said even though Nordahl is a tenant, not a property owner, he is not without rights under the state's relocation statute. Nordahl is on a "month-to-month" arrangement with his landlord, according to court documents.

"He clearly has rights, but I don't think his rights as a tenant take precedence over the property owner," said Fernicola, noting the owners have agreed to sell.

"That is why in this case, he has very limited standing," Fernicola said. "If the property owner were raising these objections, he could probably join in."

The city has made a deal with landlords Mark and Kathleen Sauve to sell two properties in the MTOTSA zone, 67 Marine Terrace, where Nordahl lives, and 72 Ocean Terrace. The city agreed to pay $450,000 for one and $680,000 for the other.

It is considered a "friendly condemnation" in which the owner acknowledges eminent domain can be used but also potentially receives tax benefits from the way the sale is conducted.

Gonos could not be reached for comment, and Nordahl declined comment. But Fernicola said the two sides will be before Lawson, who previously decided the MTOTSA case June 22 in the city's favor, at 10 a.m. Friday.

Asbury Park NJ Press: http://www.app.com