Neptune's Shark River project dropped: Asbury Park NJ Press, 10/29/07

Township shuns use of eminent domain

By Bill Bowman

A combination of recalcitrant property owners, a slowing economy and the [Neptune NJ] township's refusal to use its eminent domain powers has forced the unofficial redeveloper of the Shark River North Channel area to drop its interest in the project.

Billed as turning the area along South Concourse and New York Road into a "waterfront gateway," the project's plans include building 145 condominiums, restaurants, shops and a public promenade.

But difficulty in getting some property owners to agree to sell their land - exacerbated by the Township Committee's refusal to use eminent domain to acquire properties - forced Paramount Homes to walk away from the project, company president Jeffrey Fernbach said.

"Without eminent domain, it's never going to happen," Fernbach said of the project. He said property owners will not negotiate if they know their properties are not subject to be taken by the township.

Fernbach said he hoped that his company could still do the project.

"We spent a lot of time, money and energy on it," he said. "We hope that something changes."

Fernbach told Michael Bascom, the township's chief financial officer, about his decision on Monday, Bascom said.

Bascom confirmed that Paramount asked the township to consider using eminent domain to acquire several properties - including a vacant lot that was targeted for an access point to the promenade - but the township refused.

He said Paramount's decision did not kill the project.

"We don't consider the project over," Bascom said. He said that other developers have shown interest in it.

First, however, the township will meet with the property owners to "discuss other potential developers," Bascom said.

He said that the township has already had an informal meeting with one developer who had stopped by the municipal building on another matter.

Committeeman Thomas Catley, who was mayor at the time the Shark River channel area was declared an area in need of redevelopment, blasted the Democratic administration for the breakdown.

"This is a major failure of leadership for the current majority and calls into question their stewardship of the entire revitalization process in Neptune," he said. "What this means is Neptune will miss out on much needed improvements to the appearance and economic viability of our Shark River waterfront, and the Neptune taxpayer will not reap the benefits of the tax relief that was to be a by-product of this development."

The project is also threatened by a lawsuit filed by the owner of Midway Ice and Fuel on Route 35 challenging the redevelopment area designation. The state Department of Transportation is requiring that Midway's building be removed from the median before it will approve the necessary realignment of the highway.

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