Neptune to vote on eminent domain law: Asbury Park NJ Press, 5/14/07

Plan would exempt certain properties

By Bill Bowman

A proposed ordinance designed to exempt certain township property owners from falling under state eminent domain regulations should be strengthened, a [Neptune NJ] township committeeman said.

Committeeman Tom Catley said the ordinance — scheduled for a public hearing and final vote at tonight's Township Committee meeting — is actually taking "a step backward" from protections that were already on the books.

The ordinance under consideration prohibits the township from exercising its eminent domain power — the authority to take private property for fair compensation — on owner-occupied residences provided the owner has lived in the house for at least two years.

A town's power to exercise eminent domain kicks in when properties are included in an area designated as being in need of redevelopment.

The proposed ordinance would exempt residential properties in areas that have already been declared in need of redevelopment, and those residential properties that the township needs to take for public use or to further public safety.

Commercial properties are not included in the ordinance.

Among other things, Catley's proposal, which he mailed to his fellow committee members last week, would abolish the two-year residency requirement and would require the township to find suitable alternative locations for businesses that fall in redevelopment areas.

Catley's proposal would also allow homeowners to pass a property included in a redevelopment zone on to a family member with the protections still in place, which the proposed ordinance does not do.

Catley said those protections are already included in a "Residential and Business Owners Bill of Rights" the committee adopted by way of resolution in 2004. Township Attorney Gene Anthony has said it's his belief that resolutions made during one administration are not binding under following administrations.

If that's so, Catley said, why does the ordinance under consideration include a recision of the 2004 resolution?

"I believe that the resolution is still in force," Catley said. "I don't understand why they would want to go backwards."

Hawthorne Avenue resident Barbara Muzychka, an opponent of eminent domain use for anything but traditional public uses such as road construction, derided Catley's proposal as grandstanding.

"He's just basically repeating what we've been saying," Muzychka said, referring to members of a grass-roots organization opposed to what it calls eminent domain abuse.

Still, she said, she would rather the committee not vote on the ordinance as it's written and include provisions like those Catley has suggested.

"I would rather they didn't vote on it and they draw up a new one," she said. "I'd rather have nothing until we have the right thing. If they pass this, we won't have anything more."

Muzychka said the ordinance should prohibit all exercises of eminent domain except when properties are needed for projects such as highways or to correct a health hazard.

"Not just to put something prettier there," she said.

Asbury Park NJ Press: www.app.com