Land seizure plan angers some owners, relieves others: Asbury Park NJ Press, 8/11/07

By Fraidy Reiss

Hilda Bogursky has never seen the tiny property off West County Line Road [in Jackson NJ] that her father-in-law won in a movie theater raffle more than 70 years ago.

Even after he died in 1972 and left the land to Bogursky's husband and sister-in-law, the Glen Wild, N.Y., resident did not visit the site. She and her husband do not know their way around this area, and they were afraid of getting lost, she said.

But that did not make her any less angry to find out Jackson has moved to seize the property through eminent domain — along with 22 other small, undeveloped lots — as it proceeds with its plan to build the Solar Avenue affordable-housing project.

"I don't think it's right that they should be taking it away," Bogursky, 70, said. "How can they just do that?"

Township officials have been working since February to acquire the last 4.15 acres of the 20-acre site where the Solar Avenue project will be built. They have purchased three of the 23 lots and are in the process of buying another three.

However, on July 27, the town filed condemnation complaints against the 10 owners of the remaining 17 lots. Under its power of eminent domain, the government can condemn and seize private property for a public purpose after paying the owner fair compensation.

"They're just being unreasonable," Mayor Mark A. Seda said of the 10 owners. "They think that their strip of land is worth a million dollars."

Some of the owners cannot negotiate because they cannot show "clear title" to the land, he added.

And one of the owners, Mark Properties, probably will negotiate the sale of its seven lots in the coming weeks, said George Gilmore, the township attorney.

Alan Krupnick, of Mark Properties, could not be reached for comment.

Eminent domain has made headlines recently as state officials, including Public Advocate Ronald Chen and Attorney General Anne Milgram, have called for tighter control over local governments' ability to seize private property for redevelopment.

While towns' seizing land to build affordable housing is less common, it has happened before, according to Peter H. Wegener of Lakewood, an attorney who represents Long Branch homeowners fighting eminent domain in their town.

The Solar Avenue project will contain 105 low- and moderate-income rental units, said John Russo, Jackson's affordable housing attorney. It will partially fulfill Jackson's affordable-housing requirement, which is set by the state Council on Affordable Housing.

Jackson last month entered an affordable-housing agreement with Community Investment Strategies, based in Bordentown, which will purchase the 20-acre project site for $1. The company will apply for government funding to build the rental units and then will manage them, Russo said.

Community Investment Strategies could not be reached for comment.

The town purchased part of the 20-acre site with affordable-housing fees it has collected from developers, and in June the Township Council voted to borrow $675,000 to help fund the Solar Avenue project.

Norman Peck of Montana received $1,500 for his .09-acre piece. He said he was happy to get rid of the "landlocked, postage stamp-size property" that his father received some 30 years ago as partial payment for a car he sold.

Now Peck no longer needs to worry that someone will discover oil drums on the property he has never seen, or that a teenager playing in the woods will fall and trip there, he said.

"The objective was just to make it go away," Peck, 61, said. "If they find Jimmy Hoffa on my plot, he's all theirs."

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