Cherry Hill officials should continue to avoid using eminent domain as a redevelopment tool at three underused sites.
Cherry Hill's so-called "golden triangle" - an area bounded by Routes 38 and 70, and Cuthbert Boulevard and Haddonfield Road - is certainly a planning nightmare.
Residents live amid the constant buzz of highway traffic and sit close to large office buildings and businesses. Soon, they'll have a county probation office as a neighbor.
One practically brand new shopping center, the Garden State Pavilions, is dying because a newer, fancier shopping center is springing up at the old racetrack next door. There's no road connecting the two shopping centers, although there is supposed to be.
And, occupying some of the most beautiful views of the Cooper River are a National Guard armory and a trailer park.
However, despite the haywire planning of years past that led to this eclectic mix of uses crammed into a small, traffic-choked area, we would urge Cherry Hill officials to continue to keep their finger off the trigger when it comes to using the power of eminent domain.
Three sites within the golden triangle - a stone business on Route 70 west, a car lot on Cuthbert Boulevard and a strip of stores next to the Wal-Mart on Route 38 - are designated redevelopment zones, where it would be particularly easy for the township to take the property from its owners and hand it over to a private developer.
David Benedetti, Cherry Hill's director of community development, says the mayor is not eager to use eminent domain, however, and that it should only be an absolute last resort. That's the right way to proceed. The township should work with the owners of these sites and others to find buyers who want to improve the sites. The township should also make it easy to change the zoning so redevelopers are more interested in the sites.
But neither Cherry Hill, nor any other municipality, should be in the business of forcibly grabbing one person's or company's property to give it to another. Eminent domain is a government power that should be rarely used and, when it is, there should be extremely clear public need, such as when land is needed for a new road or school.
We hope these underutilized sites are eventually redeveloped, along with other parts of the golden triangle that are being misused.
Certainly, Cherry Hill residents would benefit by seeing better stores or more jobs come to the township at these sites. The way to do it properly is to have smart planning and zoning, incentives for redevelopers to buy the properties themselves from current owners and a committment to not using eminent domain to grab land from one private owner and give it to another.
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