Camden defends use of eminent domain: Cherry Hill NJ Courier Post, 5/10/07

By Alan Guenther

Attorneys representing the city of Camden [NJ] were in state appeals court Wednesday, defending the right to use eminent domain to move an affordable housing project forward.

The court arguments were heard one day after a City Council election in which eminent domain was a key issue. Reformers who wanted, for the most part, to ban the practice were defeated.

The Michaels Development Co. of Marlton is building affordable housing in two phases. The first phase, consisting of 78 townhouses, is being built at 21st and Hayes streets in Cramer Hill.

The project drew scrutiny from the FBI in February. When Randy Primas was the head of the city's redevelopment agency, the agency voted to transfer ownership of the property to a nonprofit organization headed by Primas.

Then, after receiving a $30,000 administrative fee, the nonprofit group entered into a lease deal with Michaels.

Primas has denied any wrongdoing, saying the nonprofit of which he was chairman was merely trying to cut red tape and move the deal forward.

But after Wednesday's court appearance, Olga Pomar, an attorney for South Jersey Legal Services, said she wondered whether the city would keep Primas' promise not to take additional homes from residents in the area to expand the project.

"There are now 43 homeowners sitting, wondering, when the ax is going to fall," said Pomar.

Attorney William DeSantis, representing the city, said that there has been a change of administrations. In January, Primas stepped down from his jobs as chief operating officer for the city and as chairman of the redevelopment agency.

The new chief operating officer, Theodore Z. Davis, has not yet revealed what the plans are for redeveloping Cramer Hill, DeSantis said.

"The city's options are open if it wants to acquire additional units," said DeSantis. The original plan by Michaels, he said, was to build 162 units, which could have included taking homes from 43 people who didn't want to sell.

The appeals court typically takes several months to render a decision.

Cherry Hill NJ Courier Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com