Public fearful of eminent domain: Union NJ Local Source, 4/20/07

By Jackeline Leon

[Union NJ] residents and business owners crowded the Bonnell Room in the Municipal Building to hear about the redevelopment plan, but instead left feeling deceived.

Township committee members held a public meeting April 18 regarding the selection of redevelopment plan consultants. The two candidates, Harry Baker and Ian Sacs, presented possible strategies for redeveloping Union, while representatives of The Metro Company LLC and township committee members looked on.

The meeting was not held in the auditorium on the main floor but in the comparably small Bonnell Room. A large amount of Union residents and business owners filled the room in hopes of hearing about the redevelopment plan and how, specifically, it would affect their homes and businesses.

Township committee members were surprised to see more than 50 residents and business owners attempt to fit inside the room to hear the proceedings.

"We expected someone would show up, but we definitely did not expect that turnout," said Mayor Restivo.

Committee members dissasociated themselves from the yellow flier sent to "Union Center merchants and surrounding residents" in which the meeting was labeled a "must attend" meeting.

Pointing to the flyer, Restivo said, " This is erroneous," and added, "In order for us to hear qualifications of these people, we need to have it open to the public." Restivo continued to explain that if more than two committee members are discussing topics related to the township, meetings need to be made public.

Restivo began the meeting on Wednesday night by addressing the public's concern that they were misled about the topics to be discussed.

She later said, "I apologize to the public for any misunderstanding but we want to explain that no action was taken at the meeting and that it was just for the purpose of interviewing those candidates."

When the public discovered the meeting would only be in reference to the two gentlemen vying for a consultant contract, some individuals left the room.

Those who left said they wouldn't have come at all had they known about the original intent of the meeting.

"I have errands to do and if I would've known the meeting was going to be about these guys praising themselves I wouldn't have even bothered to come," said one resident who asked to remain anonymous.

Topics discussed during the meeting were traffic and parking problems and possible solutions.

One candidate, traffic engineer Ian Sachs, has worked in Hoboken, Elizabeth, Jersey City and the meat-packing district of New York City.

He said that if he were chosen to manage the project, he would plan on adding a service area to Route 22. "We want to make it more pedestrian friendly for those who live nearby to walk or use their bicycles."

Sachs also stated that attention would be given to the Stuyvesant Avenue and Morris Avenue intersection.

"We don't see why the streets have to be so huge and why pedestrian walks are so long because we noticed that the center is doing two things: acting as a main thoroughfare and also trying to portray a quaint environment."

Township officials who participated in the interviews voiced real concerns the public may have.

"I'm concerned about whatever we do about traffic and how it will affect homeowners that are right behind some of these businesses," said Committeeman Peter Capodice.

"We don't want to make their lives miserable."

As they heard the interviews, eminent domain fears resurfaced among members of the public.

After seeing people lose their homes in places like Long Branch, many are fearful they'll see the story repeat itself in Union.

"I've seen people get kicked out of their homes of 40 years, and then the town turned around and built nightclubs and hotels," said Union resident Giuseppe Micelli.

She added, "The township called my building blighted but it's not, it's perfectly fine but these politicians take your property under the guise that it is blighted." She then angrily added, "The last I heard that was not a democratic way unless I woke up in Russia today, " said Marlene Goldstein.

One Union resident of 21 years who wished to remain anonymous prefers no change. "I think its ridiculous what they're trying to do because Union is OK as it is."

Others said that if their land were to be acquired then they would rather see it utilized for the good of the community.

"I understand if they take it to build a hospital, a school or something like that but they're just going to take my business to give to a developer and I'll be lucky if I get 25 cents to their dollar," said Raul Rodriguez, owner of Computer Doctor.

He and his wife, Concepcion Rodriguez, have lived here for 35 years.

"We love Union, but this is too much," said Concepcion Rodriguez.

Mayor Restivo explained that no plans have been made yet and that they do not intend to acquire any land.

"That is not our main purpose- becasue we don't want to take property. We just want to make the township a viable area, and eminent domain is only a last resort."

The candidates were not yet selected but the township has either two options. They can either hire consultants themselves or have Metro Company hire them and ammend their contracts to include the new services.

"We feel redevelopment plans wouldn't be fulfilled if we didn't pull in these experts," said Stuart Portney, president of Metro Company and consultant for the redevelopment plan.

Linda Martin, manager of Joe's Place, attributes a loss of about 40 percent of profits to the unavailabilty of nearby parking for her customers during lunch time.

"I think something should be done to accomodate the customers because its the businesses that end up losing money," she said.

Union NJ Local Source: http://localsource.com