The City of Long Branch has approved a settlement with several homeowners which dismisses the eminent domain actions the City had instituted against them in 2005. Under the settlement, the property owners, all of whom own homes in the MTOTSA (Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue) section of the Beachfront North area of Long Branch, will also be entitled to receive certain tax abatements to spur reinvestment in their properties and will receive a portion of their attorneys’ fees from the City.
Read more about the settlement on the website for the Institute for Justice, the Washington D.C. based non-profit agency which represented the MTOTSA group along with their local attorneys.
The MTOTSA area is located along the northern boundary of the massive Oceanfront Broadway Redevelopment Area, which was designated as an “area in need of redevelopment” by the City of Long Branch in the mid-1990s. The area includes the Beachfront North section where the MTOTSA properties are located. Redevelopment efforts, including eminent domain acquisitions by the City of Long Branch and its designated redevelopers, commenced in 2000 and private redevelopment occurred in the Pier Village and Beachfront North sections of the redevelopment area after dozens of properties were taken, resulting in private gain. The MTOTSA area had been slated for a future phase of redevelopment within the Beachfront North section, but market changes caused the private redevelopment interest to cool, paving the way for the potential settlement.
In 2006, the trial court had ruled summarily in favor of taking the MTOTSA properties, but the owners appealed and, in 2008, a three-judge appellate panel reversed and remanded the cases for a full hearing on the owners’ objection to the taking, based upon a 2007 ruling that had been issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Borough of Paulsboro, 191 N.J. 344 (which tightened the criteria for redevelopment designations), as well as a 2008 New Jersey Appellate Division holding in Harrison Redevelopment Agency v. DeRose, 398 N.J. Super. 361 (which extended the time limitation on challenging redevelopment designations and created more stringent notice requirements).
After the MTOTSA cases were remanded, the parties began discussing potential settlement and the recent agreements were made before the trial court conducted its rehearing.
While 43 states have reformed their eminent domain laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the New Jersey Legislature has not adopted any legislative reform, and the New Jersey courts have increasingly scrutinized eminent domain abuse, especially in redevelopment matters.
Significantly, these settlements only apply to the MTOTSA owners and property owners in other sections of the Oceanfront Broadway Redevelopment Area are not insulated from eminent domain acquisitions of their properties. Condemnation cases are currently pending for the taking of properties in the Beachfront North and Broadway Gateway sections of the redevelopment area. In addition, Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider has indicated that eminent domain powers still exist, that those powers may be used for the taking of commercial properties, and the Long Branch City Counsel has so far refused to remove eminent domain power from the Beachfront South section of the redevelopment area.