NJ: Eminent domain rejection upheld
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
By PAUL BRUBAKER
LODI, New Jersey – A state appellate panel on Tuesday upheld a Superior Court decision that the borough did not prove it had the right to invoke eminent domain to seize the homes of trailer park residents for redevelopment.
In a six-page ruling, the three-judge panel rejected the borough's challenge of a Superior Court decision in October 2005 that the borough had not provided sufficient evidence that Costa Trailer Court and Brown's Trailer Park were blighted properties in need of redevelopment.
The court also rejected the borough's claim that the matter should have been remanded to the Planning Board.
"It's everything we could have hoped for," said Kendall Kardt, president of the Save Our Homes coalition, which sued the borough. "There would have been 500 people completely out of affordable housing if this went through."
David Bole, an attorney who fought alongside the trailer park residents representing Costa Realty Co. Inc., said the appellate court's decision vindicated what he had been arguing all along.
"The redevelopment designation was not supported by the credible evidence on the record," Bole said. "We're pleased with the decision."
Ronald K. Chen, the state public advocate who had presented oral arguments in the case, said the ruling was part of the "consistent message" courts have been sending to municipalities since last month's state Supreme Court decision that blocked Paulsboro's attempt to acquire 63 acres through eminent domain.
"It's not enough to arbitrarily reach a net conclusion of whether an area was really blighted," Chen said. "You have to really have to show it."
The appellate court's decision on Tuesday ends a long saga that began in 2003 when the Planning Board condemned the trailer parks. Since the case was heard in Superior Court last year and appealed, former Mayor Gary Paparozzi, who supported the trailer parks' redevelopment, was voted out of office.
Mayor Karen Viscana and Councilman Marc Schrieks, both former Paparozzi allies who initially favored redeveloping the properties, said Tuesday they had changed their minds. Last week, the Borough Council voted to drop its appeal of the October decision. However, the court apparently issued its decision before a formal withdrawal motion was made by the borough.
"I'm happy that we did what we did last week. We made a bad decision and we rectified that decision," Schrieks said. "I'm assuming that information was communicated directly to the court. Whether or not it was communicated, I don't know."
Borough Attorney Scott Sproviero could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Reach Paul Brubaker at 973-569-7155 or email@example.com.