Lengthy litigation looms, say foes of redevelopment: Asbury Park NJ Press, 9/5/07

City would prefer to negotiate

By Carol Gorga Williams

As the city [of Long Branch] and developer Broadway Arts work to make a proposed arts and entertainment zone a reality, a small number of property owners there vow to fight "all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary" to block the project.

In April 2006, Michael S. Kasanoff, a Red Bank attorney representing Cottage Emporium Inc., the corporate name for Rainbow Liquors, and its owners, Gopal "Paul" Panday and his wife, Kavita, and the Lighthouse Institute for Evangelism, doing business as The Lighthouse Mission, and its head, the Rev. Kevin Brown, sued the Broadway Arts Center, Long Branch and the mayor and council.

Kasanoff claimed the city had misused its power of eminent domain when it adopted an ordinance allowing for the acquisition of 57 parcels in the redevelopment zone. That ordinance called for the use of eminent domain, if necessary, although it hadn't been used for Broadway Arts at the time the lawsuit was filed, or since.

Kasanoff also claimed the state's Local Redevelopment and Housing Law was unconstitutional, which he said "mindlessly" gave a municipality the power to carry out the law.

The lawsuit also challenged the state's Eminent Domain Act, which prevents property owners from receiving "truly just compensation" as required by the state and U.S. constitutions, Kasanoff wrote.

On Aug. 1, Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson, the Monmouth County assignment judge, threw out the lawsuit. On Friday, Kasanoff appealed that decision.

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit filed by Kasanoff on behalf of Brown, who claims religious discrimination because the commercial zone in which his property — which has never operated as a church — is located permits other places in which people assemble, such as theaters. He seeks to have the zoning reversed under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

That case, in which the church has consistently lost over the last seven years, is now before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, and a decision is imminent, Kasanoff said.

Kasanoff was joined in that case by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Beckett Fund for Religious Freedom.

Brown declared in a press release last week that the city and the developer "intended to appeal" until Brown, 55, dies. City officials and developer Todd Katz said they've never expressed that intention. Katz said he would simply like to negotiate with Brown, who has never submitted his own appraisal of his property at 162 Broadway.

Ongoing negotiations
Out of the four property owners who would not sell, Broadway Arts is actively negotiating with one, said Katz, noting for some people, it is not simply about money.

"It is not just a matter of writing a check," Katz said. "It is understanding what their desires are."

One day before Kasanoff filed his appeal, City Administrator Howard H. Woolley Jr. said the city could be prepared to file a declaration of taking — invoking the power of eminent domain — for the four remaining properties within 60 days.

City Attorney James G. Aaron said the newly filed appeal would probably not affect the city's strategy, unless a court order directs officials to halt the process.

Aaron said city officials and the developer have asked him to try again to negotiate with the holdouts, and the first step in that process is for the city to do updated appraisals. They should be completed this week.

If negotiations are successful, "that will end everything and moot all appeals," Aaron said.

However, Kasanoff's most recent appeal "won't stop anything that is presently going on," Aaron explained.

Kasanoff was clear about the possibility of a negotiated settlement: No way.

"My clients are committed to fighting this all the way . . . taking this to the Supreme Court, if necessary."

Kasanoff explained that the remaining property owners believe that property rights are sacred, and they oppose the planning concepts that go behind large-scale developments called "superblocks."

Kasanoff said he disagreed with Lawson's decision to dismiss the lawsuit without allowing a hearing or discovery.

"The court took the position 'you should have protested the decision in 1996,' " Kasanoff said when the city declared lower Broadway "an area in need of redevelopment."

Meanwhile, Kasanoff believes the federal court is about to send the city a message: Brown can stay and finally have his church, Kasanoff predicted.

"Justice takes its time, but we're just about there," he said.

Asbury Park NJ Press: www.app.com