Appealing Long Branch

The Appellate Division heard three hours of arguments from the assembled attorneys representing Long Branch property owners and the city of Long Branch. The argument before the media and a standing room crowd of spectators included the property owners, their families, and interested parties to the eminent domain issues. This case is the most important eminent domain case in the appellate pipeline, and could very well go to the New Jersey Supreme Court, depending on the outcome of the Appellate decision, which is expected in the early fall.

Download today's coverage in The Asbury Park Press and The Star-Ledger

In addition to the blight issues and the proper interpretation of the LRHL, this case presents important issues regarding conflicts of interest which the court must address in order to maintain public confidence in the present system governing redevelopment.

The consensus of the attorneys on the property owners' side was that the decision of Judge Lawson will be reversed. The question remains whether the court will grant an outright dismissal of the complaints filed against the MTOTSA property owners, or will remand the case to the trial court for a full plenary hearing pursuant to R4:67-5. If such a hearing is granted, it will likely involve discovery and depositions focused on the conflict issues raised by the property owners. If the court grants an outright dismissal of the condemnation complaints, the property owners will seek counsel fees and costs under N.J.S.A. 20:3-26(b) and the recent Appellate decision in West Orange v. 769 Associates LLC (A-5677-05).

Presiding Judge Joseph Lisa asked pointed questions regarding the applicability of the recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision in the Gallenthin case to this matter and focused specifically on the passage of time (ten years) between the finding of blight and the hearing before Judge Lawson where the property owners for the first time contested the designation of their properties as being an “area in need of redevelopment.” A key issue is that these property owners are not contesting the blighting of the entire redevelopment area for Beachfront North, but only the three square blocks which comprise their neighborhood. Critically, this neighborhood was designated as residential infill in the plan adopted by Long Branch in 1996. The property owners, as well as the Thompson Group, planners for Long Branch, understood this to mean that these single family residential dwellings would remain, and the vacant land that existed in this neighborhood would be infilled with additional single family residential units.

The Thompson Group specifically included in the plan support and encouragement for this long established residential area. The attorneys for Long Branch attempted to twist the meaning of residential infill to include the construction of an additional 185 condiminium units in place of these houses. The decision to acquire these homes which was made in 2001, not 1996, dovetails with the joint venture agreement between Hovnanian subsidiary Matzel Mumford and Applied Management of Hoboken. Our view of this change is that it was a purely economic decision made in favor of the developer because the construction of these units in gross dollars would result in over $120M in additional revenue.

Legal Briefs and Background:

Appellants Brief in City of Long Branch v. Anzalone

Respondents Brief in City of Long Branch v. Anzalone

Appellants Response Brief in City of Long Branch v. Anzalone

Amicus Brief submitted by the Public Advocate in City of Long Branch v. Anzalone and Brower

City of Long Branch v. Gregory Brower background page at the Intitute for Justice web site.