Gardens Injunction: Burlington County NJ Times, 9/15/07

By Jason Harris

The [New Jersey] state Appellate Court has issued a temporary injunction halting redevelopment and relocation in the Mount Holly Gardens section until the matter is reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

Residents of Mount Holly Gardens sued in 2003 to stop the long-planned redevelopment of the neighborhood. Superior Court Judge John A. Sweeney dismissed that suit last August, but the residents appealed his decision.

Kenneth Goldman, an attorney with South Jersey Legal Services, said the Appellate Court ruling issued Thursday brings redevelopment to a standstill until the state Supreme Court decides whether to hear the appeal. He called the ruling a big win for the residents he represents.

“All relocation activities are going to be stopped,” he said yesterday.

Goldman and James Maley Jr., the attorney representing the township in the redevelopment, agreed the injunction specifically forbids the township from:

  • Starting to take any homes via eminent domain.
  • Directly soliciting Gardens home owners to sell their properties.
  • Evicting any tenants for the purpose of implementing the redevelopment plan.
  • Demolishing any vacant township-owned property in the Gardens unless the township demonstrates that demolition is necessary because of an imminent threat to health and safety, and that rehabilitation would not be economically feasible.
  • Relocating any residents without first specifically informing them in writing that if they accept relocation assistance payments to move out of the Gardens, they will not be provided with any relocation assistance to move back into the neighborhood.

Maley said the township has to change three practices.

“One is we can't solicit the purchase of property,” he said. “Second, we have to give notice to people being relocated that there will not be benefits for people to move back to the Gardens. Third, we can't just demolish township-owned property just because we want to. We have to show that buildings pose a threat to health and safety before we can demolish.”

Maley said the township could still buy property, but couldn't initiate contact with a homeowner and that the township had never evicted anyone through eminent domain.

“We evict for nonpayment of rent and that will continue,” he said.

He added that relocation could continue, but that people being relocated from the Gardens would now be made aware that there is no relocation money available to help them move back.

“There was not an explicit notice being given to people,” Maley said. “We will give that notice now.”

Goldman said the portion of the injunction forbidding the township from taking houses through eminent domain would free residents from feeling pressured to leave the neighborhood.

The township has so far purchased all the houses it owns in the Gardens, but Goodman said eminent domain was almost inevitable at some point.

“Their plan calls for acquisition of units,” he said. “If (residents) don't want to sell, (the township) will have to take them. There is no way around that.”

The Gardens comprises 307 attached homes. The township has purchased 211 of those properties, 185 of which are vacant. Leases on the remaining 26 township-owned properties expire this year.

Burlington County NJ Times: http://www.phillyburbs.com