A New Jersey appellate court handed a victory to homeowners in a long-running eminent domain dispute with the city of Long Branch, N.J., finding no actual blight in an area set for condemnation and redevelopment.
The case by a group of long-term residents of the coastal strip drew the attention of land use specialists and landowner rights advocates from around the country in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision allowing cities to use eminent domain to take "blighted" land from one private owner to give to another for development.
In the 86-page unanimous decision, the Superior Court of New Jersey's appellate division held that the city failed to find actual blight in the 25-acre parcel of beachfront it hoped to take over from landowners and convert to a 185-unit condominium development.
It did give the city a second shot by sending the case back to the lower court to allow for an effort to show blight in the area. City of Long Branch v. Anzalone, No. A-0067-06T2.
"They should have dismissed the case outright," said William Ward of Carlin & Ward in Florham Park, N.J., attorney for the Anzalone family, which owns a small bungalow in the redevelopment zone.
The ruling follows the New Jersey Supreme Court decision last year that a municipality can't condemn property as blighted by saying it is "not fully productive" and thus needs development. Gallenthin Realty Development Inc. v. Paulsboro, 191 N.J. 344 (2007).
At its core, the Anzalone case is about defining blight under New Jersey law.
Ward said he would ask the trial judge to dismiss the case and predicted Long Branch officials would not be able to produce evidence of blight.
He also doubted the New Jersey Supreme Court would be interested in the case. "They have already opined on it in Gallenthin," he said.
"There is an implicit message in this opinion to the New Jersey legislature to address these [eminent domain] issues," he said. "They have been talking about it for three years and have not done anything. I hope this provides some impetus for them to take action," he said.
The attorney for Long Branch, Paul V. Fernicola of Bowe & Fernicola in Red Bank, N.J., did not return calls seeking comment.