TRENTON – On Feb. 23, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (“League”) issued a 13-page “white paper” outlining its position on redevelopment law and eminent domain. The document adds to the on-going public dialogue on eminent domain resulting from the United States Supreme Court’s June 2005 decision in Kelo v. New London, which permitted local governments to use eminent domain to take private property and convey it to a private developer for the purpose of economic development.
The League noted that, in contrast to Connecticut (where the facts giving rise to the Kelo case occurred), New Jersey law does not provide that “economic development” is a public purpose. In fact, both the New Jersey Constitution and the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law specifically require local findings of the substantially higher standard of “blight” before a local government can involve itself in the development of private property.
Major redevelopment actions in New Jersey are subject to challenge politically, socially and legally, noted the League.
“Redevelopment has long been a vital for New Jersey local government,” according to the League. “Over the past 15 years, significant redevelopment activities have occurred all over New Jersey as local officials became more aware of the land use powers available to them to deal with blighted, deteriorated or stagnant properties. These properties not only affect the economic and financial conditions, but also the social and neighborhood stability of such communities.”
“Furthermore,” said the League, “since the adoption of the State Plan two decades ago, state policy has been to promote development and redevelopment in our urban centers and older suburbs, and preserve and protect our vital natural resources. This policy is now commonly referred to as ‘smart growth.’ If the Garden State is truly committed to principles of the State Plan and smart growth, local governments must be allowed flexibility to address the challenges posed by redevelopment. In that regard, eminent domain is a tool of last resort, but an important tool nonetheless.”
The League urged that current debate focus on what actually is happening in New Jersey communities, including increased reliance on property taxes to cover rising local government costs. Local municipalities will be expected in upcoming years to become less reliant on state resources, the white paper cautioned.
In light of its premises, the League concluded that “to react to Kelo by proposing to simply legislate away local government’s ability to use eminent domain in the redevelopment of blighted areas if it involves residential properties, ignores very real problems developing throughout a large part of the state.”
“Such thinking,” insisted the League, “insults the many local officials who face these issues regularly as they meet their responsibilities to those who elected them to build and maintain a viable, stable, vibrant and self-reliant community.”
Last November, the League sent out a survey to its membership to determine how often and for what purpose New Jersey municipalities exercised eminent domain powers. It received 199 responses, and found that “the vast majority … had not exercised this power at all in the past 15 years.” Nine respondents, however, had used eminent domain to acquire property which was then turned over to a private developer for redevelopment purposes.
The League’s full white paper may be viewed at http://www.njslom.com
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