Long Branch Property Owners Denied Compensation for Beach Expansion
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled yesterday that beachfront land created by government replenishment projects is public property, and does not become part of the private property owned by adjacent property owners.
This ruling was made in an eminent domain case involving beachfront property in what has become the “Pier Village” section of Long Branch. The property had formerly been owned by Jui Yung (Jimmy) Liu, and his wife Elizabeth, and consisted of commercial beachfront property which was included in the Oceanfront Broadway Redevelopment Area, designated as an “area in need of redevelopment” under New Jersey law in 1996. The City seized the property via eminent domain in 2001.
Long Branch had initially offered the Lius approximately $900,000 for their property located on Ocean Avenue between the boardwalk and the beach, and which had contained an arcade, pizzeria, hot dog stand, and other commercial uses. Liu’s appraiser valued the property at nearly $3 million, including value for nearly 2 acres of land which Liu claimed accrued to his private benefit prior to 2001 when the government had replenished and enlarged the beachfront along his property. A jury awarded the Lius $1.45 million as just compensation, and the trial court held that no additional compensation was warranted for the sand which was deposited along Liu’s property line.
Before yesterday’s ruling, New Jersey law held that beachfront which accrues naturally over long periods of time – through a process known as “accretion” – is considered to accrue to the benefit of adjacent private property owners. However, where beachfront is added suddenly – through a different process called “avulsion” – the new land is considered to be public property.
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts, holding in its unanimous decision that, under the “public trust doctrine“, the public was the beneficiary of the larger beach created by the government-funded program, and as a result, the adjacent private property owners could not be compensated for the taking of property they never owned. Accordingly, the beach replenishment in the Liu case was considered to be akin to an avulsion, resulting in “new” public property. A copy of the Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
This ruling is consistent with the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court involving similar issues in the Florida panhandle. The Florida “Stop the Beach Renourishment” case was the subject of our previous blog post in this New Jersey Condemnation Law Blog.
For more on this matter, read Mary Ann Spoto’s article in the Star-Ledger, Michelle Gladden’s story in the Asbury Park Press, or the article by Jacqueline Urgo in the Philadelphia Inquirer.