Long Branch lawyer says city didn't abuse eminent domain: Asbury Park NJ Press, 4/18/07

By Carol Gorga Williams

It's the city's turn to tell its side of the story in the eminent domain controversy, and in legal papers, it spins a markedly different saga, suggesting that MTOTSA supporters engaged in revisionist history to concoct a version of events more favorable to their side.

The city's position is buttressed by a long-anticipated "friend of the court" brief filed by the state League of Municipalities, a powerful lobbying group.

"This case is not a case of eminent domain abuse," writes lawyer Lawrence H. Shapiro, representing the city. "Rather, this case involves an unsubstantiated challenge to the proper exercise of eminent domain through a process procedurally correct, substantively sound and which is a necessary component for proper planning for the revitalization of an area in dire need of redevelopment."

Scott G. Bullock is a lawyer with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm helping to represent MTOTSA, about 19 property owners in the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace and Seaview Avenue area. Bullock said not only is this a case of eminent domain abuse but it might be the most sensational example of such abuse in the country.

"I think they are engaging in scare tactics in this case and trying to convince the court this is going to grind to a halt all redevelopment projects in New Jersey," said Bullock, noting he is working on a reply brief to the city's 125-page missive. After that, oral arguments will be scheduled in the appellate division.

Shapiro notes the defendants in the case admit they were informed of the city Planning Board study that predated the city's determination to designate the area for the redevelopment, and many of them testified before the Planning Board. They were also properly notified of subsequent council actions, he said.

According to the legal brief, MTOTSA residents "continued to stand idly by" in the period between the 1995 designation of the area in need of redevelopment through other key events, including the 2001 ordinance authorizing the condemnation of their properties.

The "disingenuous arguments" that they were misled by drawings, pictures or statements made by officials that their properties would never be condemned "is contrary to the official actions taken publicly by the City Council, on notice to all," the brief notes.

"As such, this appeal constitutes nothing other than a baseless challenge to an award-winning, properly studied and considered redevelopment plan, which is returning the city of Long Branch to economic stability, improving the general welfare of the city and providing a heightened reputation as a destination to be visited," Shapiro said.

Bullock said the bottom line is that there are serious factual disputes between what the city alleges happened and what MTOTSA believes, which only can be settled by a hearing in which witnesses give testimony under oath.

"That is something (Superior Court) Judge (Lawrence M.) Lawson did not permit, and that is something we are confident the appellate court will order given the fact that that is New Jersey law," Bullock said.

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