Proprietors in Emerson, NJ Fight A Pending Eminent Domain Seizure of Their Businesses
Source: Institute for Justice
Small scale proprietors and residents of the Central Business District in Emerson, New Jersey have formed a coalition called Stop Emerson Eminent Domain to prevent the Borough council from condemning their properties and handing them over to private developer JMF Properties. Eighty-two properties fall within block 419, which has been designated a condemnation redevelopment area, but in response to public backlash the borough council removed twenty-four properties from consideration. The Borough council claims that it has to seize these properties to meet its affordable housing obligations, but the developer’s agreement does not require JMF Properties to build affordable housing in the Central Business District, but rather explicitly says they will explore alternative sites. Furthermore, New Jersey’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law does not include affordable housing as one of the criteria for establishing an Area in Need of Redevelopment. The current study of block 419 relies on New Jersey's vague legal definitions of ‘obsolete’ and ‘underutilized’ conditions, which are often used to simply transfer property from one private owner to another private owner (i.e. legal robbery). A few proprietors have spoken out against the pending eminent domain seizure of their property that would destroy their livelihoods; their comments are included below.
“The borough wants development at any cost, and will violate my rights as a hard-working small-business owner to get it,” said Dan O’Brien, owner of Academy Electrical Contractors, Inc. “They’re using affordable housing as a smokescreen for this development, and they’re abusing the state’s redevelopment law in the process.” Dan moved his business to Emerson five years ago and poured $150,000 into his property with hopes of one day handing it over to his children after he retires. “I’ve helped countless people in this borough with their electrical needs. I have 14 employees, half of whom are residents of this borough—if I lose my business, these Emerson residents lose their jobs. Our properties clearly aren’t blighted, and they are not for sale,” Dan continued.
“We invested heavily in Emerson at a time of economic downturn. Our property is essential for our small business, my livelihood and retirement. It’s a horror to watch eminent domain crush other small businesses, homes, and lives,” said Todd Bradbury, owner of Bradbury Landscape in Emerson. “No court ordered this—it was an elective move by the governing body. We are not going to sit back and watch the next block fall. Just imagine if this happened to you.”
“I came to Emerson in 1977, when I was 24 years old. Since then, I’ve built two buildings and renovated two on Chestnut Street, with no tax breaks, no special treatment, without a dime, nothing—I worked hard seven days a week, often until 1am,” said small-business owner Bob Petrow, who owns Star Properties. “I’ve contributed to many community causes. Now I depend on these buildings that I bought, built and maintained to sustain me. They’re my retirement. Now all that’s threatened.”
“Mayor Lamatina recently said in a media interview that ‘downtown sorely needs new blood,’” said Toni Plantamura-Rossi, who owns the Dairy Queen on Kinderkamack Road, which was built in 1952. “But they’re attempting to squeeze small-business owners out of the borough. We’re part of a small-business franchise and are proud to be blue-collar workers. We all need electricians and auto-mechanics…what’s wrong with these services if we’re helping everyone’s needs? When did building a successful local business that caters to the community become something to be looked down upon and not patted on the back?”