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Old 05-19-2006, 10:07 AM   #1
Mulberry Street Coalition
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 133
Default Eminent Domain laws need reform, public advocate says

State's eminent domain laws need reform, public advocate says

By BETH DeFALCO
Associated Press Writer

May 18, 2006, 5:47 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey's laws allowing government to take land for private
redevelopment don't adequately protect the rights of tenants and property
owners, the state's public advocate said Thursday.

"We must ensure the rights of New Jersey families are protected," Public
Advocate Ronald Chen told the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development
Committee, adding that the state's system for using eminent domain for private
redevelopment needs serious reform.

Earlier Thursday, Chen's office issued a report commissioned in response to a U.
S. Supreme Court ruling last year that gave wide latitude to local governments
wanting to use eminent domain _ their power to seize private property _ to
promote economic development.

Since the ruling, many states have tried to restrict such powers. South Dakota
has outlawed the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment altogether,
the report said.

While the report acknowledged the need for eminent domain to foster economic
revitalization, it cautioned that the opportunities for misuse, abuse and
injustice are greater "if the process is not transparent, used rarely and only
in very specific circumstances."

"The use of eminent domain must be for redevelopment and must be limited to
truly blighted areas," Chen said.

Some recommendations the advocate's office offered include:

_Narrowly tailoring qualifications to designate an area as blighted, which
triggers the ability to use eminent domain.

_Placing on municipalities the burden of proving an area is blighted, opposed
to residents having to prove the government's actions were wrong.

_Giving more notice to tenants and property owners affected by eminent domain.
Currently, tenants are not entitled to any notice at all.

_Offering public participation when making the decision to seize a property.

_Allowing property owners more time to appeal.

_Allowing tenants, not just property owners, to participate in the
redevelopment process.

_Paying homeowners who lose their property true market value or the replacement
value of the home.

"Under current laws, a family can have its property taken but the compensation
it receives may not be enough to allow that family to ever own a house in their
community again," Chen said. "This is unconscionable."

Chen suggested that when low-income tenants are placed in an apartment that
costs more than 30 percent of their gross income, the municipality or developer
provide rental assistance for up to five years.

Timothy P. Duggan, a Princeton attorney who represents property and business
owners in eminent domain disputes, commended the advocate's report but said
more changes are needed, especially for business tenants. Currently, the
government will pay to move them, but offers no additional assistance to make
sure the business survives in its new location.

"In New Jersey, you don't get paid for the value of business, things like
higher rent or the impact the move has had on your customer base," Duggan
said.

Sen. Ronald Rice, chairman of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee,
said he was drafting legislation to establish "fair guidelines" for deciding
eminent domain cases.

"Eminent domain is crucial for the redevelopment of an area, but we need to
make changes to avoid abuse," said Rice, D-Essex.

Rice also said he plans to hold public hearings on eminent domain later this
month and in June.
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