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Mulberry Street Coalition
09-14-2004, 09:18 AM
A Heated Dispute in Newark
Mulberry Street Landowners Fight $550 Million Project
By Marc Ferris NY Times Sunday Sept 5, 2004
Almost every building along the Mulberry Street corridor near City Hall here
prominently displays signs protesting a proposed redevelopment plan. Some
state, “Let’s Build Tomorrow Together” or “Save our Homes.” Another series
features a red circle with a slash slicing through the words “eminent domain
abuse.”
At issue is a plan by the Newark Redevelopment Corporation, a private
entity, and Hoboken-based builder Metro Homes to condemn 14 acres in the shadow
of City Hall and build an “urban village” of 2,000 condominium units and retail
stores with 180,000 square feet of space.
The development has been the subject of heated hearings before the City
Planning Board that are expected to continue later this month. The board is
authorized under the state Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, enacted in
1992, to recommend whether the area is “in need of redevelopment,” the
statutory standard required to embark on proceedings involving eminent domain,
which is usually defined as the right of a government to seize private property
for public use. In this project, however, private property is to be taken for
use by private entities.
The Newark Municipal Council has the final say over the matter and can
modify the developers’ proposal.
More than half the 65 property owners in the area have organized the
Mulberry Street Coalition to fight the project, calling it a land grab by
politically connected developers that would destroy a rebounding neighborhood.
Proponents of the $550 million project say, however, that it will provide a
shot in the arm for the decaying city center and populate the downtown area
after dark.
If the condemnation plan proceeds, the law requires the developers offer
just compensation, or fair market value, to the landowners.
“We will offer existing businesses compensation above and beyond what law
requires,” said John Inglesino, a lawyer who represents the developers. “We
want them to be part of the project and welcome the opportunity to incorporate
them into our plan as long as it makes sense.”
But George Mytrowitz, spokesman for the Mulberry Street Coalition, said that
trust was lacking and that no signed contracts had been offered. He owns three
buildings in the area, including one that houses Market Body Works, an auto
body shop that his great-grandfather opened as a carriage repair establishment
90 years ago.
“There is a difference between fair market value and open market value and
we get nothing for the taxes we’ve spent or for future business,” he said.
“The developer makes a lot of promises, but we don’t want to leave.”
Mr. Mytrowitz said that the project’s history included some interesting
turns. In May, 2003, The Municipal Council voted 7 to 0 (with 2 abstentions) to
reject a request for the Planning Board to consider the proposal. But on Jan.
5, the council voted 5 to 2 (one member abstained, and another was absent) to
reverse the original decision.
Records at the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show that
after the May 2003 vote, the developers, along with associates and family
members, contributed money to two councilmen, one of whom then changed his
vote, and to Mayor Sharpe James, who supports the project.
The Newark Redevelopment Corporation, the records show, donated $750 to
Councilman Hector Corchado on Aug. 3, 2003, and $500 on Oct. 23, 2003. On Jan.
5, he changed his vote as the council reversed its opposition to the plan; that
day, the records show he received $ 1,000 from Mr. Inglesino, the developers’
lawyer. On Feb. 4, he received an additional $300 from the corporation, and on
Feb. 5 he received $2,200 from Dean Geibel, a principal of Metro Homes. On May
5 he got $150 more from Mr. Inglesino.
Mr. Corchado did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Augusto Amador, the neighborhood’s Municipal Council representative, who
originally voted to reject the development plan but abstained from the vote in
January to re-introduce it, received $1,000 from Newark Redevelopment
Corporation on March 24 and $1,000 from Emilio Farina, a principal of the
corporation and a former aide to Councilwoman Bessie Walker, on April 4.
Mr. Amador, who said in July that he was considering returning the money,
said last week that he had no intention of doing so.
“It doesn’t play a role in that decision or any other decision,” he said. “I’
m not in favor of the project, but I will make my decision again if the owners
are not properly compensated.”
Mr. Mytrowitz said of the donations and the votes: “This is all legal, but
what does it say? Pay-to-play.”
Mr. Inglesino said, however, that “there are certainly no quid pro quos of
which I am aware.”
Eminent Domain cases have been the subject of scrutiny statewide, in part
because the law gives broad powers to municipalities, said John Buonocore, a
lawyer for the Mulberry Street Coalition.
“The problem for property owners is that the law and the courts attach a
presumption of correctness to any municipality’s decision,” he said. “What’s
going on in Newark is that they’re putting the cart before the horse: the
developer saw an opportunity, got the city to go along, and then they’re trying
to make this conform to the redevelopment law.”
Scott Bullock, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian
legal group based in Washington D.C., argues that municipalities abuse their
constitutional powers when they take property from private owners and give it
to a private entity in the name of economic and tax benefits.
The legal tide may be turning, he said, citing a decision last month by the
Michigan Supreme Court that overturned a case in which the City of Detroit was
allowed to clear the Poletown neighborhood for a General Motors plant. The
court called the use of eminent domain for private purposes “a radical
departure from fundamental constitutional principles.” The case, originally
decided in 1981, had been cited by other courts around the country to justify
broad application of eminent domain proceedings.
In Newark, where hearings on the redevelopment proposal began in July, the
Planning Board has heard conflicting opinions from consultants hired by the
developers and by the coalition regarding the neighborhood’s condition.
The developers say that the neighborhood is blighted, meeting a criterion of
the law that allows municipalities to condemn property because of a “lack of
proper utilization” of land that is “potentially useful and valuable for
contributing to and serving the public health, safety, and welfare.”
Along the Mulberry Street corridor, which consists of nine blocks and 166
properties, 60 percent of the area consists of surface parking lots, vacant
land and storage yards. Mr. Inglesino said the developers’ case was bolstered
when the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court ruled in June that
surface parking lots represented evidence of underutilization.
The area is sandwiched between the downtown business district and the
Ironbound neighborhood, which has experienced a renaissance in recent years.
The Mulberry Street area used to look “like a war zone,” Councilman Amador
said. Though it is not a garden spot, however- broken glass and litter cover
some sidewalks on the side streets- signs of life abound. New stucco sheaths
several buildings and satellite television dishes perch on windowsills and
rooftops.
Mr. Mytrowitz questions the need to seize any buildings in the area, arguing
that there are plenty of undeveloped parcels on which to build. But Mr.
Inglesino says that the parking lots and other empty spaces are not contiguous
and that any meaningful redevelopment cannot be done in a hodge-podge basis.
Jose Criado, a member of the coalition who owns the Pick-It Laundromat,
which inside the redevelopment zone said: “If you can condemn this place, you
can condemn all of Newark. Our roots are here, and we stuck it out when no one
else cared about the neighborhood.”
In the end, coalition members may be fighting a losing battle, given the
siren call of redevelopment.
“My dilemma right now is that Newark is on the threshold of moving forward,
and a project like this could plant the seeds for change that will lift the
city for the next 30 or 40 years,” Councilman Amador said. “But no one should
be treated unkindly by this process. The project is going to be done,
ultimately, but I just hope it will be done in a manner that is fair to
everyone.”

(The properties related to this article are not related to the Arena Project, but lie south of it between Mulberry St & McCarter Hwy- from Oliver St. to Green St. 2/3 of the property owners formed this coalition to save their homes and businesses from being handed to Pay-to-Play developers.)
http://www.mulberrystcoalition.com

5Reasons
09-14-2004, 11:05 AM
Do you feel as though Mulberry shouldn't be redeveloped? Also, what is your alternative vision?

Now you guys know I am not for the machine and their bullying tactics; however, the high income district along with some of the other plans appear to be a good move for Newark.

We can all agree that Newark needs a high income district - God knows we do more than our fair share of housing low-income people.

What's your vision? Sell me on that because just opposing Sharpe's plan just doesn't do it for me.

MrTim1955
09-16-2004, 07:30 AM
I walked through the Mulberry Street area the other day and it is definitely a blight on our downtown area.

I think we have a few property owners making a killing on the undocumented immigrant population and they will lose big time if the area is redeveloped.


If it came to a vote, I would vote to re-develop the area. The owners should be given fair market value for their property but nothing should stand in the way of improving Newark.

Mulberry Street Coalition
09-16-2004, 02:43 PM
Mr Tim,
You are referring to a different area along Mulberry St. The area we are fighting to protect does not interfere with the arena project. Our area consists of small businesses, homes (2 & 3 family) in which the owners live,
and surface parking lots.
Please do not make broad or uninvestigated statements about areas like the city is doing, if they have their way the entire city is blighted.

MrTim1955
09-16-2004, 03:40 PM
It all looked the same to me except for the new houses by McDonald's. Except for those houses, it looked like urban blight to me.