No stay for Long Branch condemnations

Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson rejected two motions to stay two eminent domain jury trials in the cases City of Long Branch v. DeLuca and City of Long Branch v. Angelides yesterday. Long Branch filed a motion seeking an indefinite stay of these condemnation trials, scheduled respectively for November 3 and December 8, 2008.

Attorney Paul Fernicola argued on behalf of Long Branch that the DeLuca and Angelides trials should be stayed because of the pending certification before the New Jersey Supreme Court in the City of Long Branch v. Anzalone and companion cases. Judge Lawson agreed with the property owners, and noted there was no nexus between the DeLuca and Angelides cases and the pending Anzalone case.

Both the DeLuca and Angelides properties are part of what is known as the MTOTSA (Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue) neighborhood. The DeLuca family has a long history in Long Branch. The DeLucas had objected to the right to take their house on Ocean Terrace pictured above, but decided not to go forward with an appeal after Judge Lawson affirmed the city's right to take in his June 22, 2006, opinion. Judge Lawson's opinion was appealed by the other MTOTSA property owners, and reversed and remanded by the Appellate Division on August 7, 2008. Angelides never contested the right to take.

The DeLuca and Angelides properties are now owned by the city of Long Branch and its developer by virtue of the filing of the declarations of taking and the deposit of the estimated compensation in the Superior Court Trust Fund. N.J.S.A. 20:3-19. The only remaining issue for DeLuca and Angelides is the jury trial, which will establish the just compensation due them under the New Jersey Constitution, Article 1, paragraph 20.

"That ship has sailed," said Judge Lawson to attorney Fernicola, noting that the takings cannot be abandoned without the consent of the respective property owners once title has passed to the condemning authority. N.J.S.A. 20:3-35.

It appears by these motions made by the city, reported statements by Mayor Schneider, and the developer's recent withdrawal from the Beachfront South project (see Asbury Park Press, "Long Branch, developer sever deal"), that Long Branch and its developer may also abandon Beachfront North Phase II, which encompasses the MTOTSA neighborhood. However, the developer has taken title to at least half of the properties in that neighborhood, and those acquisitions will create a liquidation headache.

In addition, if the condemnation cases are abandoned, the city is obligated to pay counsel fees and costs to the property owners. N.J.S.A. 20:3-26(b). See blog post on Township of West Orange v. 769 Associates. As of the date of this post, neither Peter Wegener (who represents Angelides) nor I have been contacted by Long Branch to discuss settlement, contrary to Mayor Schneider's statement in the Asbury Park Press that attorneys for the property owners "won't come to the table."