Eminent Domain Victory: It's Not Just for Long Branch
In mid-September, the municipal government and the developer involved reached an agreement with the homeowners in which all eminent domain actions were formally withdrawn. The city will be barred from any future efforts to take these homes via eminent domain under any current or future redevelopment plan.
This was a long battle, and it is a major victory. This neighborhood of longtime residents who barbecue together and regularly spend time on one another's front porches has literally been through hell. Unfortunately, many senior citizens, including World War II veterans, who had lived there for decades did not live to see this day, having died fighting for the right to keep their homes.
Under the agreement, the city has also agreed to reimburse the homeowners for a portion of their attorneys' fees and provide the homeowners with the tax abatements that had originally been promised to the developer who had planned to tear down their homes and build expensive condominium complexes. Additionally, the developer has agreed to rebuild and/or repair abandoned homes that were initially purchased under the redevelopment plan.
The beginning of the end of Long Branch's redevelopment and eminent domain abuse came in August 2008, when a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division unanimously reversed the horrendous 2006 decision of Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson, permitting condemnation of the properties. When the case was sent back to trial court, the city agreed to abandon its eminent domain actions and began negotiating a resolution of the matter with the affected homeowners.
The Long Branch case was one of the most publicized and prominent of the eminent domain abuse cases in New Jersey. That is why this victory goes far beyond Long Branch, why it is a victory for every homeowner and every business owner ever targeted by eminent domain for the purpose of economic redevelopment. As the 2008 decision was the beginning of the end for Long Branch's efforts, this victory is the beginning of the end of eminent domain abuse in New Jersey. And it is a shining example of how we the people can fight City Hall; not only can we fight, but we can win!
In the fight against eminent domain abuse, we still have quite a way to go. While 43 states have reformed their eminent domain laws in response to the 2005 Supreme Court Kelo decision, New Jersey's legislature has done absolutely nothing to protect home and property owners from this travesty. Legislative hearings on several bills were held; Governor Corzine's Public Advocate even actively advocated reform measures, yet nothing has been done. It is only in the state Supreme Courts that progress has been made to curtail the taking of homes and businesses for economic redevelopment.
Redevelopment may be dormant and for now, even dead in Highland Park, but make no mistake--our residents and business owners have very little legal protection should the governing body decide to revive redevelopment efforts. That is why we need to continue to lobby the state legislature for reform that protects all who want to keep their property the same way the Long Branch agreement protects the residents of one particular neighborhood.
The good news is, these battles can be won. Every victory along the way is a step toward the big victory. And every victory is a reminder that real power is not in City Hall, not in the State House, and certainly not with wealthy developers. Real power is within each one of us, and that is why, when this battle is finally over, we will prevail.