Eminent Domain: Looking for consensus on the N.J.Commerce & Economic Development Committee

“Our idea is that these ideas, plus others, will be assembled in a compromise bill....If we stall, we’ll look for another alternative.” –Asm. John Burzichelli

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-3, Chairman of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee, will recommend a consensus bill in June which will attempt to address eminent domain issues. Eminent domain has been the subject of two committee hearings held in the past few months. See The Daily Journal (Gannett newspapers) of 15 May.

Assemblyman Burzichelli and his committee will attempt to draft a bill which will be an amalgamation of eminent domain revisions suggested in over a dozen bills introduced by legislators in 2006. An outright ban on the use of eminent domain for economic development is not in the cards, nor is a moratorium on the use of eminent domain as has been suggested by several legislators.

What is unclear is how Assemblyman Burzichelli’s efforts interplay with Public Advocate Ronald Chen, who has been charged by Governor Corzine to address the eminent domain issue and prepare a report to the governor and the Legislature, presumably recommending eminent domain revisions. The Public Advocate has been invited to brief the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on his fact finding regarding the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes at tomorrow's meeting.

Burzichelli announced at the committee meeting on May 11 that the modifications are geared to changes in The Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (P.L. 1992, c.79). We have said before, (see blog post, Eminent Domain Think Tank ) and it’s worth repeating, eminent domain reform cannot be done piecemeal. The Legislature and the governor need to consider comprehensive reform which will address the following laws:
1. The Eminent Domain Act of 1971, N.J.S.A. 20:3-1 et seq.
2. The Relocation Assistance Act, N.J.S.A. 20:4-1
3. The Relocation Assistance Regulations, N.J.A.C. 5:11-1
4. The Local Redevelopment Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12-1 et seq.

A comprehensive reform can only be accomplished over a six month period by a bipartisan committee composed of retired judges, academicians, eminent domain practitioners, representatives of municipalities, the Department of Transportation, and other condemning authorities. Anything short of a comprehensive review will be mere window dressing on a problem which should be given the full attention of the assembly, senate and the governor.

At the May 11 meeting, Assemblyman Burzichelli's committee considered the following bills:

A-537 sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Panter, which would prevent the use of condemnation to acquire residential property under redevelopment laws.

A-582 sponsored by Assemblyman Kean, which establishes minimum amounts for eminent domain relocation assistance and additional homeowner payments.

A-1220 sponsored by Assemblyman Diegnan which requires DCA approval for designation of areas in need of redevelopment and requires referendum before condemning land for private economic development.

A-1290 sponsored by Assemblyman Louis Manzo, which requires “just compensation” for condemnation of single-family residences to be based on cost of comparable relocation properties.

A-2017 sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Kean, which would require increased notice to affected property owners for proposed redevelopment and rehabilitation areas.

A-2018 sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Kean, which would require payment of an extra $100,000 to owners whose property is condemned for private economic development purposes.

A-2019 sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Kean, which would require municipal referendum prior to condemnation of private property when sale or transfer to private entity for economic development purposes is contemplated.

A-2423 sponsored by Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, which would place a temporary moratorium of 48 months on certain uses of eminent domain and create the Eminent Domain Study Commission to examine its use Statewide.

ACR-138 sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Merkt, which would propose a constitutional amendment to limit exercise of eminent domain to acquisition of land for essential public purposes.

ACR-161 sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, which would propose a constitutional amendment to limit the use of condemnation to traditional public purposes and repeal constitutional provision allowing condemnation and long-term tax exemptions for redevelopment projects.

ACR-168 sponsored by Assemblyman Christopher Connors, which would propose a constitutional amendment to restrict use of condemnation power against non-blighted property for private economic development purposes.

Seven legislators testified: Assemblymen Robert Gordon, Richard Merkt, Joe Pennachio, Sean Kean, Louis Manzo, Guy Gregg, and Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk. All the lawmakers testified to the public's desire to see eminent domain reform. Listen to the testimony of the legislators.

Written By:Ken Popson On May 19, 2006 11:45 AM

Suggest that condemnors be required to pay all appraisal and legal expenses for all properties being acquired.

Why should a small property owner be put into a situation where he has to expend significant money and not know if he will get anything in return?

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