Evesham Township, about a half-hour drive from Philadelphia, has identified seven vacant or “underutilized” properties for a proposed redevelopment plan. According to Nancy Jamanow, Evesham’s development director, “eminent domain may be a tool.”
The seven properties include a vacant bank that dates back to 1927, a scooter store, an old diner, a garden center, a former Borders bookstore, a roller-skating rink and Greentree Executive Campus.
Adding insult to injury, adjacent properties are also at risk from a companion “rehabilitation” plan. One of these properties is Harvest House, a Victorian-era store that doubles as a home for Beatrice Jones and her husband Jerry. The Joneses have owned Harvest House for 42 years, and were “very upset,” when they first learned of the plan: “If we were approached and somebody said, ‘I like your property,’ that would be one thing. But I'm not about to turn it over.”
New Jersey was one of only six states that failed to pass any type of eminent domain reform, ignobly earning an F from the Castle Coalition. Unsurprisingly, the state continues to be plagued with eminent domain abuse, ranging from casino redevelopment in Atlantic City to nearby Mount Holly Township, where the township bulldozed homes without any regard for nearby residents:
“The day the bulldozer hit the house, my great-granddaughter was living with me and she was sitting on the bed. The bulldozer hit the side of the house she was sitting [on] and she could actually put her hand where the wall crashed and pushed in. She had sheet rock all in her hair when the ceiling fell.”
As these cases show, New Jersey’s eminent domain law is in desperate need of reform. Hopefully the plight of these property owners can finally galvanize legislators to take action.