By Scott Bullock
The Long Branch, N.J., property owners are finally safe at home for good. On September 15, 2009, an order negotiated by the Institute for Justice was entered in court that both dismissed the eminent domain actions filed against the homeowners and ensured that the city and the developer must work to restore a neighborhood damaged by eminent domain abuse. The city is also barred from taking the homes in the future under the current or any subsequent redevelopment plan.
In August 2008, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division unanimously reversed a lower court decision that allowed Long Branch to condemn this charming seaside neighborhood to make way for a luxury condominium development. After the case was sent back to the trial court and the city announced that it was willing to drop the eminent domain actions, the parties began discussing how to resolve the remaining issues in the case.
Importantly, in addition to removing the current and future threat of eminent domain, the agreement imposes obligations on the city and the developer to improve conditions in a neighborhood that the city neglected for so long. The city must now repave all the streets in the neighborhood and repair the street lights.
The developer must also clean up the damage it caused to the neighborhood. Developer-owned homes in the neighborhood were abandoned and boarded-up, causing decline and posing both safety and crime problems. Under the agreement, the developer must immediately start the work of demolishing its abandoned homes, with all its homes being demolished by April 2, 2010. The developer may eventually build new homes on those parcels.
Just a few weeks after the agreement was concluded, the property owners joined with the Institute for Justice and other supporters for a victory party right in the heart of the formerly threatened area, celebrating that—at long last—they can get their homes, their lives and their neighborhood back.
Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.