Monthly Archives: November 2010

SLH Council votes to implement anti-eminent domain regulations

The Council began a discussion of overriding the Mayor’s veto of the anti-eminent domain and the redeveloper pay-to-play regulations ordinances.

Councilwoman Sara King asked to distribute material to the other Council people and indicated she would then read it into the record. The Councilwoman distributed a copy of an editorial which recently ran in the Asbury Park Press newspaper.

“What I did was, I just passed out a copy of an article that was in the Asbury Park Press Community Reporter on October the 28th, Thursday? ‘And the editorial says: ‘Eminent Domain: Stop Dithering. It is becoming increasingly clear that the state Legislature isn’t interested in updating its eminent domain laws to better protect citizens against unwarranted seizure of their property by the government.

‘In response to the Kelo v. City of New London U.S. Supreme Court ruling five years ago that upheld the government’s right to take land for private redevelopment, 43 states have changed their eminent domain laws to prevent abuses. New Jersey isn’t among them. The Legislature has sat on its hands.

‘More than two weeks ago, a revised eminent domain bill was approved by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. But it requires at least four additional approvals before it could get to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. Smart money isn’t betting the approvals will come any time soon.

‘The Legislature has consistently failed to act of legislation that would protect homeowners and property owners, leaving it up to the courts to make determinations about abuses of eminent domain. That is unacceptable, especially in light of the fact that several pieces of legislation have been introduced that would provide the necessary protection by spelling out the proper uses of eminent domain and the conditions for employing it. The legislation has been introduced, then left to wither on the vine.

‘New Jersey has become a hotbed of eminent domain cases before and since the 2005 Supreme Court decision. Residents in Long Branch, Lodi, and Paulsboro have successfully challenged the way municipal officials have defined land as blighted. They shouldn’t have to go to court to get the protection they deserve. ‘No law is perfect. But something is better than nothing. Nothing is what we have now’.

“The reason I cut this out,” continued Councilwoman King, “Is that I was in favor of these two ordinances that Councilwoman Crippen put forth, and I do believe there are people in this town who would like to start redevelopment as we had trying to start once before. I took great offense at a property owner who was here at the last meeting, sitting in the back of the room, and when she overheard the Mayor say the Mayor was going to veto two of these ordinances, she clapped her hands and walked out.

“It happens to be the owner of property who wanted to make a redevelopment zone a few years ago.

“I have lived in town all my life and I do not want, under any circumstances, want to see any opportunity for anyone to come into this town and take land away from me or any of my fellow residents in Spring Lake Heights. And I propose that myself and my fellow Council members vote to reintroduce – override – these two ordinances that we have here before us tonight.”

Council President Butch Maccanico asked to be recognized to speak. “I just want to thank the people who spoke. You presented a good case and you do have my support.”

Councilwoman Patricia Cindea then asked to be recognized. “I just wanted to point out that the landowner that Sara was talking about does not live in town. She owns commercial property, but does not reside in our town, does not reside in our community, does not live … does not vote.”

The Mayor then asked if there were any other discussion and, seeing no one wanting to speak, asked for a roll call vote on overriding the veto of the redevelopment pay-to-play regulations ordinance.

Councilwomen Cindea, Kathleen Crippen, Lynn Kegelman, and King voted yes, as did Council President Maccanico. Councilman John Brennan was the lone ‘no’ vote against implementing regulations against political contributions from developers working on a redevelopment project. When the clerk announced that the ordinance was overridden, the audience burst into applause.

The Mayor then asked for a motion to override the anti-eminent domain ordinance. On a motion and second by Councilwomen Crippen and King, Councilwoman Crippen opened the discussion.

“I would like to make a comment. The draft of this ordinance was provided to me by Michelle Bobrow via her role with the Stop Eminent Domain Abuse NJ organization. During the course of the last two weeks, I came to learn that it was actually authored by Denise Hoagland, who is here tonight. And I think it is a fitting tribute for Denise if we were to pass this in honor and in support with what she went through up in Long Branch.”

“And Denise spoke?” asked the Mayor for clarification.

“Yes,” confirmed Councilwoman Crippen, “She’s the lady in purple.”

“Any other discussion?” the Mayor questioned.

“Yes, your Honor,” said Councilman Brennan, “I would just like to thank the folks from Long Branch and Asbury and Neptune for stopping in. I am very much opposed to eminent domain abuse, but you asked the question why is it you wouldn’t want to have this on the books. Well, I’m not opposed to having it on the books, but I am opposed to spending money needlessly and you saw just earlier today that we had to take $1,000 away from our seniors because our budget is so stressed.”

Councilman Brennan was referring to an earlier agenda item which transferred unspent funds from one category to another. One thousand dollars had been budgeted for the senior health fair, which was not held in 2010. The unspent funds were transferred into the legal fees budget line, to cover overrun expenses caused by the recent petition drive.

“Frankly, I think we all acknowledge that Spring Lake Heights is a very fine community and there are no blighted areas,” Councilman Brennan continued. “Spring Lake Heights is also a community of very sensible thinking people and no one has ever mentioned about having a redevelopment zone. There has been a lot of misinformation about the area along 71. What that was, what the planning board wanted to be able to have, were design criteria for new building in the event that private developers who own the land want to put up stuff. So there were architectural specifications, those types of things, so there was talk about having a zone, a Town Center zone, just as there would be a planned community zone for condominums. It was a Town Center zone that would provide for the opportunity for the planning board to make sure there would be design criteria.

“And there was a lot of … Ms. Crippen and others came forward and suggested this was a redevelopment zone. It was never a redevelopment zone. No one ever suggested there be a redevelopment zone. There is no blight in Spring Lake Heights. This is not about lining their pockets or anything like that, that’s not in Spring Lake Heights. And with all due respect to my fellow Council members, I think that the folks in Spring Lake Heights will see quite clearly that this is unnecessary and it costs money, money that we don’t have.”

Councilwoman Crippen asked to be recognized to speak. “I would just like to make a couple of historical notes here,” she said, showing the audience a sheaf of papers. Reading from the first page, she noted that, “On Monday, June 13, 2005, under a former administration, there was appointed by the Council at the time a committee to study rezoning and redeveloping the end of Allaire Road to Spring Lake’s border and along Route 71 to Wall Road. I was at that meeting and I did hear the discussion about a redevelopment zone, and I do have the resolution with the committee that was appointed.”

Heightsonline obtained a copy of the resolution. The committee appointees were: Planning Board Chairman Frank Russo-Alesi, then-planning board member Louis LoBosco, Board of Adjustment Chairman Donald Eilenberger, then-planning board member Paul Damiano, then-planning board member Mary Beth McKnight, then-councilman Richard Gannon, then-zoning officer Andrew Clark, and SLH Beautification Committee Chairwoman Catherine Hahn.

“Over the course of the next approximately three years,” continued Councilwoman Crippen, “I became aware through other discussions with people involved with the former administration that there was an intent to expand the original redesign along the highway to include everything from the west of Highway 71, east to the railroad tracks, and then north above Allaire Road all the way to the border of Wall Township. And I was told by an elected official that ‘wouldn’t the area up around Hoffman’s Ice Cream make a lovely shopping area because there are only a couple of little ‘eh’ houses there now, and the town would be better off without them.

“From that point on, I rallied a number of people, we attended planning board meetings, we were involved with some planning groups, and,” she said, reading from the paperwork in hand, “…the concept of creating a Village Center zone to improve services and create a downtown identify, seeking development of a Village Center zone, that got into the Monmouth County Planning Board’s Coastal Monmouth Plan. Now, I was one of the three representatives from Spring Lake Heights making up this plan and that sure as Hell didn’t come from. That came from two other people who were involved.

 “In 2008, as we moved into a master plan reexamination report, in February 2008, there was a planning board meeting where how to broach the subject of the redevelopment zone was discussed, and that is on tape for anybody who wants to listen to it. I can give you the date. The Master Plan Reexamination Report which finally was passed in December 2008 talks about how, in 1996, ‘…land use regulations should be utilized to take advantage of redevelopment opportunities.’ ‘A commercial zone to encourage the development of this area …’ Then they address … they look at what hadn’t happened from ’96 to 2006, and one of the comments that is made is, ‘… the redevelopment of commercial properties along the Highway 71 corridor remains a viable option for current property owners as very limited development opportunities exist. The previous reexamination report suggests developing a policies guideline and a vision for land useage along the 71 corridor by examining alternatives to traditional land development patterns, redevelopment opportunities, and transportation improvement. The Borough has begun the initial stages of developing design guidelines and a vision for Highway 71, while Monmouth County has received funding from DCA to study the 71 corridor from Brielle all the way up to Eatontown’.

“I have tried for 3 years to get these proposed design development plans and everybody denied categorically they existed, but previous planning board members showed them to me in book form,” Councilwoman Crippen explained. “Now, beside the fact that those plans were developed without the input of the public, who paid for them? Who paid for them? The taxpayers of this town paid for something they didn’t even know they were paying for.

“The master plan reexamination report goes on to say that one of the specific changes recommended is ensuring an economically healthy, aesthetically-pleasing commercial corridor and addressing the lack of a true Town Center. The zoning change opportunities with a view towards developing a mixed-use zone should be reviewed; this zone would permit age-restricted and other types of housing such as affordable housing and market-rate housing. And another goal was to develop the design guidelines including streetscape standards for the B-1 and B-2 zones and the entire Route 71 corridor.

“And then the best part of all, on the very last page where it has the section on Redevelopment Recommendations? It says, ‘The Borough of Spring Lake Heights does not have any existing or proposed redevelopment areas recommended at this time’. Well, then why did you just spend pages and pages talking about what we are going to redevelop? This is a typical thing where it gets hidden in the language.

“Now, in the end of December 2008, there were some pretty exciting planning board meetings in this town that people turned out for and one of them culminated in a resident who got up and spoke at the last meeting in support of this ordinance, when she got up and spoke at the planning board meeting, she received a threatening anonymous letter from someone who said, ‘…you’re probably new to town because in Spring Lake Heights, we talk in terms of ‘we’ and ‘our’ and not ‘I’ and ‘my’ when discussing the town. As a long-term resident of Spring Lake Heights who works, shops, and dines in the town, I would very much like to see Spring Lake Heights with a town center and I know many others who feel the same way. We live in a wonderful town with wonderful people. A town center would be a good addition. We look forward some day to be able to say, ‘Meet me in the Spring Lake Heights Center’.

“So, for anyone to say that redevelopment was never discussed in this town, either they were not at the meetings that I was at, and they don’t have the recordings of the meetings that I have, or they are being completely disingenuous that they never heard a word about it.”

The audience burst into applause when Councilwoman Crippen finished her discussion on the background of proposed redevelopment in Spring Lake Heights.

“And in due respect to my colleague, Mr. Brennan,” Council President Maccanico said, “I feel this is protection to our taxpayers and I agree with you, as far as money goes, it is tight, but this is money well-spent to protect our residents.”

The audience again applauded for Council President Maccanico’s statement.

“I just want to say,” began Councilman Brennan, “I think you folks who are following the conversation here are getting a flavor for what actually took place. There was never … a redevelopment zone, as Mr. Raffetto has explained … a redevelopment zone … something that you folks in Asbury Park and Neptune and Long Branch are concerned about … deals with defining a redevelopment zone for purposes of taking property and awarding the property that was taken to private developers for purposes of redevelopment. And that was never, ever discussed by anybody.

“And, you know, Ms. Crippen sits up here and says a former administration … Does anybody in this room believe that Elwood Malick, the former mayor, would ever, ever suggest or support taking people’s property?”

“Yes,” said several members of the audience.

“I didn’t say it was Elwood,” responded Councilwoman Crippen.

“Yeah, that’s what you said,” Councilman Brennan shot back, as members of the audience laughed because the Councilwoman had never mentioned anyone by name. “And so, in all due respect, with all due respect … with all due respect … and Ms. Crippen says she also spoke to a former elected official, but she won’t name anybody. And she talks about anonymous letters, but she doesn’t name anybody … with all due respect …”

“John,” said Mayor Enright, motioning to the Borough Attorney, who was attempting to speak.

“Councilwoman Kegelman has asked to call the question,” said the attorney. “If council wishes to call the question, it will require a vote of Council, two-thirds …”

“Wait, can I just …” began Councilman Brennan.

“No, you can’t,” shot back the mayor. “She called the question. Can I have a vote, please?”

“There would be a motion and a second,” said the attorney.

“I make the motion,” said Councilwoman Kegelman.

“I’ll make the second,” said Councilwoman Crippen.

All council members voted yes to stop discussion and put the matter to the vote. The Mayor then asked for a roll call to override the Protecting the American Dream anti-eminent domain ordinance.

Councilwomen Cindea, Crippen, Kegelman, and King and Council President Maccanico all voted yes. Again, Councilman Brennan was the lone ‘no’ vote against the anti-eminent domain ordinance.

Long Branch resident Vincent LePore: “Beware of the power brokers.”

Vincent LePore of Long Branch approached the microphone and gave his name and address.

 “Let me tell you, following those two ladies,” he said, pointing to Ms. Hoagland and Ms. Vendetti, “… is very hard to do. They were national leaders in the fight. The one that was just at the microphone was on the cover nationally of Parade Magazine. She has every bit of that coverage to her credit.

 “The reasons you want to override this are essentially an insurance policy. I’m affiliated with one of the highest profile cases in this State right now – Fuschia Coach vs. The City of Long Branch. We are challenging the legitimacy of a redevelopment zone in the City of Long Branch along with an illegal blight designation.

 “The $200 or $300 it is going to cost you to draw up the ordinance is nothing, okay? It is an insurance policy against the future. Within this State, the local government has to take control, to deal with the matter. She’s correct …,” he said, gesturing to Ms. Hoagland.

 “In this State, Mr. Burzichelli was the mayor of Paulsboro, and a landowner in Paulsboro, in the famous case of Gallenthin vs. Paulsboro, handles that committee upon which any legislation comes out and it appears like it will never come out, putting the burden moreso upon the property owners within local communities to put their guard up.

 “I have here a pamphlet published in July 2010. This pamphlet was brought to my attention by Ms. Denise Hoagland. This comes from your County Planning Board. The attorney is Mark Akins, responsible for this. It is entitled ‘Redevelopment Area Investigation Report and Redevelopment Plan Procedures.’ Let me tell you what it really means after you read it. It’s a ‘how-to’ guide for municipal governments to implement redevelopment zones with the use of eminent domain. And in the alternative, they talk about rehabilitation zones. However, they downplay the rehabilitation zones because you do not have the threat of condemnation or eminent domain that you would have in a redevelopment zone.

Mark Akins did redevelopment work for the City of Long Branch. Mark Akins has a mortgage from the bank, Monmouth Community Bank, which gave the line of credit for Long Branch’s redevelopment. That bank being the bank of City Attorney James Aaron of the law firm Ansell Aaron & Grimm and Solomon Dwek. And you know the rest of the story.

 “Mr. Raffetto,” said Mr. LePore, turning to the SLH Borough Attorney, “They say you are a nice guy, I don’t know what you are doing with that bunch.” The audience applauded. “Everybody says you’re rooted in town, a well-liked individual, how you wound up with that bunch is beyond me. This is the pay-to-play powerbrokers that two or three hundred dollars worth of insurance is going to protect you from. Right now, City Attorney Aaron is drawing up a redevelopment zone in Millstone on Highway 33. That is the most powerful law firm in this state with Jerry Zaro, their former law partner, that proceed with the use of redevelopment zones and eminent domain. And the City of Long Branch was the final word on what they did.

“As far as the financial aspects, the future’s in a commercial zone. There is a term in the financial industry called ‘list penance.’ When you put a redevelopment zone, you have a financial freeze on your property from every financial institution that is out there. You can’t sell. You can’t borrow. You can’t leverage. You can’t do anything. And then, when you are in a market like we were five years ago, you find the City appraises your houses like they did the MTOTSA houses for thirty cents on the dollar of what fair market value is. And your stuck. Everything, your whole livelihood and your investment, whether it is your house or your business, is choked by a government that wants to take your property for thirty cents on the dollar and, in Long Branch’s case, give it to Hovnanian.

 “And they succeeded. They succeeded about fifty percent of what they wanted to accomplish so far, between them and Applied Developers. On the financial aspects as well, if you don’t know Long Branch, we have the Broadway corridor. The City of Long Branch blew it. They had their pay-to-play powerbrokers scheming up on Broadway, this redevelopment and yet in 2005, when the real estate market was at its highest, this country saw the largest real estate expansion it has ever experienced in one hundred years. And investors and small developers could not go into Broadway and develop. Why? Because it was carved out with the pay-to-play people involved with the government of Long Branch.

“That is why today, when you go down Broadway, it’s a third world enclave. And nobody can say it isn’t. The City of Long Branch blew it because of improper and deemed illegal government control as ruled under Gallenthin over real estate, disrupting the free market. If Broadway were subjected to the free market, it would have looked a lot different than what it does now.

 “Essentially, these are a few of the reasons why you may want to consider overriding this veto. I appreciate the opportunity of coming here to speak here. You have wonderful community here. I’ve driven through this town, I know this town, I studied it before I came here this evening. The redevelopment zone, or claimed alleged redevelopment zone, north of Allaire here along 71, and east to the railroad, that’s not blight. You people have got a long way to go for blight. The rest of the town, going inland, it’s a solid town. It’s a very nice community. It commands respect from people. It commanded respect from me.

“This pamphlet, in looking at the years of the housing stock, this pamphlet carves out now the new criteria. If any neighborhood in a planning area has housing stock over 50 years of age or older, or infrastructure 50 years of age or older, it can be subject to a redevelopment zone or a rehabilitation zone, thereby opening it to eminent domain or condemnation.

 “You have to keep your guard up. The shopping mall along 71 there – the former owner of it was Jerry Zaro, a member of Ansell Aaron Grimm & Zaro law firm again. The power brokers are out there. He no longer has a vested interest in the property, but for whatever reason, there is an investigation into the property now as to why he sold it for such a tremendous loss. And who knows how crooked anyone plays a shell game. Beware. Beware of the power brokers.

 “Thank you. I support this Council’s override of the veto.”

 Mr. LePore took his seat to the applause of the audience.

 Next: The Council discusses overriding the veto

Long Branch MTOTSA homeowner speaks in support of anti-eminent domain laws

Editor’s Note: Heightsonline continues its series of anti-eminent domain speakers from the Nov. 8th SLH Council meeting.

“State your name and address, please,” said the mayor as the next speaker approached the microphone.

“My name is Denise Hoagland,” she said, giving her address on Ocean Terrace in Long Branch.

 “First of all, I would like to commend the four of you who voted for the ‘Protecting the American Dream’ ordinance. I applaud you for standing up and taking the initiative and making a difference to protect the people in your community from this abuse. I happen to be a victim of this abuse and it has been an abuse of oppression. Lori Ann Vendetti just mentioned that we won. Lori and I agree on a lot, but that is one thing we don’t agree on. You can’t win something that was rightfully yours in the first place. So, to say that was a win is very difficult for me, considering our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, lost so much during the ten years that we had to fight to keep what rightfully was ours in the first place.

“I certainly hope that the motion to override the mayoral veto goes through. And I do so in recognizing what Mayor Enright has said earlier here tonight about that there are no blighted areas within the Master Plan that you have and one of the things that I want to make sure that I mention is that in our area, the area that was actually scheduled for in-fill in the original Master Plan, when they came to do the criteria for the taking which is the assessments of the homes, out of our neighborhood, only 2% of the homes were listed in poor condition. The rest of the homes – there are only three conditions: good, fair, and poor – the rest of the homes were in good and fair condition. Only 2% of the homes were listed in poor condition.

“To say that someone’s home does not need to be technically listed as blighted in the form that one would constitute blighted, doesn’t necessarily stand tall with the New Jersey State redevelopment law, if you go through it. And also what Mayor Enright had mentioned earlier about there are protections — I don’t know if you have read the redevelopment statute in New Jersey recently, but there is very little protection. I’ve been before the legislature and I’ve testified and I think that notification is certainly nowhere near where it needs to be for people to recognize and be aware of what can possibly happen to their rights, and how blatantly and easily their property rights can be taken from them.

“And hopefully … well, I keep saying hopefully, but I’m actually losing hope in our State and the possibility  of that happening … I’m actually finding hope that towns, small towns, towns that are a mile big are making the difference by passing an ordinance stating that this cannot happen to its constituents. Thank you.”

 Ms. Hoagland made her way back to her seat as the audience burst into applause.

 Next: Vincent LePore of Long Branch

Asbury Park resident Steve Wider speaks out against eminent domain

The Council meeting of November 8 continued as members of the audience spoke out in support of an anti-eminent domain ordinance. Steve Wider of Asbury Park approached the microphone.

 “Hi, my name is Steve Wider. As your attorney knows …,” he began.

“Could I have your address, please?” asked the Mayor.

 Mr. Wider provided his address and continued. “I was going to say that your attorney is also our attorney in Asbury Park. Asbury Park and the waterfront, aside from the boardwalk itself, is like a wasteland. We have a bunch of condos – condos that were built to sell between $450,00 and $1.2 million dollars. They are sitting there mostly vacant and they can’t even lower the price on it, because the people they sold them to bought them at a higher price. And rather than take a lower price they are renting them temporarily.

 “And then also there are people like the man who owns the Adriatic Restaurant, who came from Russia as an immigrant and came to the United States so his land would not be taken. So he comes here and then he gets put in a redevelopment zone since 1985. It’s not just this redevelopment, but it also has been a redevelopment zone since about 1984 or so.

“So, they might write him out of the development area, which is nice, but normally they wouldn’t, so all these people down there, basically their property – like Cee Ramos, she had a nice little deli and an apartment above it, they took her land, I don’t even know if she got all her money. She was promised $300,000; the land was actually worth about $600,000 if it wasn’t in a redevelopment zone.

 “I was just down in Mount Holly and they have a redevelopment zone down there, and it looks like kind of garden apartments but they are actually homes that people own and one lady – we went down for a block party in support against eminent domain – and these homes look like a disaster zone, like something after World War II or something, because once you put it in a redevelopment zone, you can’t even get permits to fix up your property anymore.

“So, it turns out it is the redevelopment zone itself and not the people in the homes that are causing the homes to degrade and turn into a blighted zone. So, you know, redevelopment zones are useless. And you’ve got to remember that anyone who supports the Constitution of the United States, originally, as per the Constitution, you can only take property for public use. Meaning a school, a road, a courthouse, you know, a major highway like Route 80. They took homes years ago.

“But then, there was a case in, I believe, it was 1978, it was, Dorothy?” Mr. Wider turned to Dorothy Argyros for confirmation, as Ms. Argyros nodded in consent. “With General Motors? General Motors wanted to build a big factory so they took a bunch of homes, and you know, businesses among them, and that was the case that changed everything from public use to ‘for the public good.’ In other words, it was kind of over this one big thing where you could say, ‘well, this part of town doesn’t look as pretty as that part of town, so we’re going to take all the houses over in this part of town and just take them away from the people. Take their houses and where 5 houses used to be, we’ll build 30 condos and the developer, and the people who support the developer, including the politicians that support them, will fill their pockets with money and those people lose their homes.

“It’s just like Lori was saying in Long Branch, that they were trying to do. So what it boils down to, is if you support the original intention of the Constitution, it was against that. You could not take a private property, knock it down, and build a more expensive private property. All you could do was take it for a new courthouse, a new school, a new road, or something for actual public use, for the good of all, not just for ‘public good,’ which is what it turned out to be.

“And in a city like this – now, I live in Asbury Park and, of course, there are some really bad parts of Asbury Park but it’s starting to get better – but, my question is, why would you be against it — an eminent domain ordinance – if you’re never going to use it? I mean, all it can do is protect people and abide by the original meaning of the Constitution. So the only reason I can see for any politician to be against it is because they have an account in the Cayman Islands that money is being put into for building a redevelopment zone. That is the only reason I can possibly see. Otherwise, why would you possibly be against it? I would like to know.

 “Asbury is a little different because there were blighted zones, but actually, it wasn’t blighted on the waterfront. But anyway, I appeal to you for the sake of the future, when all of you people are gone because from what I understand, 4 out 5 people who were here the last time – I couldn’t be here, I sent an e-mail to Councilwoman Crippen that my mother was having a major operation the next day – so I’m here tonight and I just want to say please drop the veto, let it go through, it is not going to hurt anybody to have an anti-eminent domain ordinance.

 “It is just going to help the people. Because whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whatever religion you are, whatever – eminent domain is terrible, it’s horrible to steal people’s land away from them. “And I’m not even a landowner – I just have feelings for all my middle-class friends and my poor friends that get effected by it disproportionately, too.”

Next to speak: Denise Hoagland of Long Branch

Long Branch resident Lori Ann Vendetti: “You just don’t know what is going to happen later on.”

Next to approach the microphone was Lori Ann Vendetti. Mrs. Vendetti is one of the property owners who joined together to form “MTOTSA,” an acronym made up from the streets they owned homes on — Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue – all of which were labeled blighted by the City of Long Branch.

“You’ve got a lot of outsiders here today because of this …” Mrs. Vendetti began.

“Will you give us your name, please?” Mayor Enright interrupted.

“Yes, I’m getting ready, my name is Lori Ann Vendetti,” said Mrs. Vendetti, giving her Ocean Terrace address in Long Branch. “If you don’t know about Long Branch, we were the ones that just won – got to keep our homes – we’re a small beachfront community, small bungalows, the City wanted our property, we fought for 8 years, and we’re still there.

“I know this is a small town, I know there may not be any eminent domain right now, but as the Mayor was quoted, she said that the Borough had no blighted areas and according to the Borough’s Master Plan of 2008, it has ‘no existing or proposed redevelopment areas’.

“As Mr. Raffetto knows, our area wasn’t scheduled – we were a redevelopment zone – but we weren’t …  we were supposed to stay in our Master Plan. Our Master Plan had our neighborhood there. Our Master Plan said our neighborhood was going to be in-fill. There were just supposed to put houses on empty lots. So we never, you know – you might have read in the papers – we never fought originally, against the Master Plan. Our houses were staying. Our neighborhood was staying. Years on, all the homes were getting knocked down to the north of us, to the south of us, and we were like, ‘oh, my God’. So, it doesn’t have to be in the Master Plan. They can still take your home later on. That’s the scary part.

“So, I would – I’m up here, I’m not going to talk long – I’m here to support the override. I think this law…  Like I said, this is a small town. You don’t know what is going to happen later on. It’s just security for your residents here. Maybe nothing will ever happen, but why not have it on the books? We’re trying to get it in Long Branch, and the Mayor of Long Branch said the same thing, ‘we’re never going to use it again’. Well, that’s a handshake deal. You said you weren’t going to take our property in 1996 and you came after it. So, it’s just a little security for your public and I think you should reconsider.”

Mrs. Vendetti took her seat to the applause of the audience.

Next to speak: Steve Wider of Asbury Park

Prominent anti-eminent domain attorney Dorothy Argyros speaks in support of SLH ordinance

Next to speak against eminent domain was Dorothy Argyros, the 82-year-old Neptune attorney who has been a polarizing figure in the fight against eminent domain in that community.

“My name is Dorothy Argyros, I’m from Neptune, I have been …”

 “Could we have your address, please?” interrupted Mayor Enright.

 “Sure,” said Mrs. Argyros, stating her address. “I’ve been an activist fighting eminent domain in Neptune ever since the redevelopment project came out wanting this property in Neptune,” she commented, brandishing a thick list. “There are 1,250 homes here. We fought for several years for an ordinance and we finally got one. I want to support this young lady – I think there are many reasons for an anti-eminent domain ordinance. The main one being: would you buy a property, no matter how attractive, if you knew that it could be taken at any time by the government?  Would you open up a business in a place where that could happen?

 “I’ve thought a lot about eminent domain, trying to peel away the onion over the years and this is what I’ve written, how I feel:  Eminent domain means that you have worked all your life to make a nice home, to make it the way you want it, or you’ve grown a good business, and then the government will help some stranger to come along and reap the benefit of what you have done. That’s tough enough when it is for public use. But when as witnessed, the people who wanted to take all this property, when it is to enrich some politician’s already wealthy friends, then that fills you with anger. There is a lot of anger about eminent domain, in the whole country and certainly in Neptune.

 “We filled the hall on February 25, 2004, with people fighting against this. They had to adjourn it to a larger hall. We filled the larger hall. This is making people angry. It has been called the ‘third rail’ of American politics – step on it, and you’re dead. Because people have worked very hard, and they should reap the benefits of what they have done.

 “Since the awful decision, infamous decision, in Kelo vs. New London, most states have passed protective laws. I found the statistic for 2007 and it was 41 states and I’m sure that it is many more now. I think that New York and New Jersey are the only hold-outs where they are playing at making a state law but I think the politics is such that we won’t be able to get it. Would you start a business in a place where that could happen? Would you pay 6 or 7 digits for a home in a place where that could happen? I don’t think so.

“And as far as the protections go, as it is now, I’ve suffered eminent domain. Not for redevelopment, but supposedly a road. That was, like, 5 years ago? And my property still sits there with nothing built on it.

This is a very lucrative thing for people to take other people’s property. Of course, it was never supposed to happen in America. The founders worried about it and they set up protections and somehow or other, we are doing it. But what it means is – the town has to spend a lot of money on litigation, the homeowner has to spend a lot of money which they probably don’t have on litigation. The end result – in New Jersey, the courts have been deciding in favor of the homeowner. So a lot of money is spent by the owner retaining the property that he already owns. I can’t think of anything more irksome and I got up before the Burzichelli Committee  in Trenton and they asked me what I thought of redevelopment eminent domain and I said ‘I think it is crooked politicians rewarding their friends with other people’s property.’ I was roundly applauded.

The Burzichelli Committee was the group convened to investigate the dealings of Paulsboro, NJ, Democratic mayor and Camden County Assemblyman Paul Burzichelli. Burzichelli was instrumental in the declaration of a redevelopment zone to create a Delaware River port in Paulsboro. The zone included 63 acres of pristine wetlands owned by George Gallenthin. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of Gallenthin invalidated the Borough of Paulsboro’s blight designation of the property. Paulsboro considered the property to be blighted because it was undeveloped.

“And I’m willing to admit that is crude language. I found the same language more elegant – Reason magazine said ‘New Jersey is suffering the painful fall-out of its long-running policy of fleecing residents to benefit politically-connected special interests’. It gets better … Timothy Kearny in the Washington Examiner: ‘New London (where they did eminent domain) now has a wasteland where a neighborhood once stood, and no jobs or businesses to show for it. New London was really another example of political cronyism and politicians using the might of government to benefit well-connected big business at the expense of those poor and less influential.’

“But I really like the words of Tim Lord, who I’m going to finish with. He said: ‘This is a crooked game. Rob the poor, give the property to the rich, and move the people out. The mood on the street is angry,’ he says. You bet.

“I think you should pass this ordinance just so Spring Lake Heights does not become one of those places where they say, ‘oh, you don’t want to live there, don’t start your business there, you could be taken by eminent domain’.”

 The audience burst into applause as Mrs. Argyros took her seat.

Council President Butch Maccanico said, “I would just like to make a comment. The lady said there were 41 states toughened their laws? There are now 43. I read an editorial in the Press and there are 43 states that toughened their eminent domain laws and New Jersey is not one of them.”

 Next to speak:  Lori Ann Vendetti of Long Branch’s MTOTSA group.

The Public Weighs in on Eminent Domain

Residents and anti-eminent domain advocates attended the November 8, 2010, Spring Lake Heights Council meeting and shared their opinions and experiences during the Voice of the Public session. Heightsonline will present these speakers in a series of postings.

 Spring Lake Heights resident Sharon Batteau of Beverly Avenue rose to speak first.

 “I would like to ask the mayor, encourage the mayor, to reconsider an eminent domain protection ordinance. Because those of us who live in older houses, or on or close to Highway 71, do have reason for concerns. Because already, sort of quietly, Highway 71 is turning into a commercial alley. We have construction up by the 7-11, we have construction down by Central Avenue, Wall Township is planning some sort of strip mall where the old junkyard used to be and there is talk of a supermarket there. Also, there’s nothing to say that perhaps someday someone isn’t going to want to widen Highway 71 and that is a big concern for me that, you know, it’s going to be in our back yard and we will have no recourse and I see nothing to protect the homeowners.

 “I mean, look what happened in Long Branch – those people didn’t consider their homes blighted and now they’ve got Pier Village, the Bluffs, and everything like that. So I just think it would be a wise thing to consider. Even though it is not in the master plan, there is nothing to say something isn’t going to come along. There’s a lot of people on the planet, there are a lot of people coming down here, Highway 71 is getting very busy. Somebody is going to eye that and look especially at the little red house where the antique store is and say, “Hmmm. Well, that doesn’t need to be there. That’s blighted.” And anywhere else. And so I would ask you to reconsider. I think it is very important that homeowners … “

  “One thing, I don’t think they can just say it is a blighted area,” Mayor Enright interrupted, referring to the governing body, which includes herself, as “they.” “There are a lot of specifications from the state now on what can be, or what would be a blighted area. They can’t just come in and say it is blighted. There are a lot of things it has to be and I think our attorney discussed that last time, didn’t you?” she asked, turning towards Borough Attorney Fred Raffetto.

 “Yes, there are a lot of procedures that would have to be undertaken by law in order for a determination to be made that an area would be designated as blighted or in need of redevelopment under the local Redevelopment and Housing Law before something like this could be put through,” Mr. Raffetto replied.

 “Well, I do remember reading a couple of years ago, there were some articles in the Coast Star that there was a redevelopment zone being discussed and a Town Center?” Mrs. Batteau continued.

 “I think the last time, if you were at our meeting, someone informed our planning board discussed that and we said it was never redevelopment intended, it was never discussed, I don’t know what was in the Coast Star but our planning board never discussed that,” stated Mayor Enright. However, during 2008, the SLH Planning Board did discuss a possible redevelopment zone and heightsonline will provide some of those meeting notes in a future post.

 “Well, I just want to know, or I just want to go on record as asking you to reconsider because I think there is nothing wrong with protecting us,” said Mrs. Batteau. “I mean, the Shore is becoming more and more popular. Spring Lake Heights is sweet just as it is right now and I would just hate to see it change at the expense of the homeowners. Thank you.”

Next post:  Dorothy Argyros of Neptune speaks.

BREAKING NEWS: SLH Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto of Anti-Eminent Domain, Pay-to-Play for Redevelopers Ordinances

In a 5-1 vote, the SLH Borough Council voted tonight to override Mayor Fran Enright’s veto of two ordinances passed at the October 26 Council meeting. One protects private property owners, stating that in the event a redevelopment zone is declared, no private residential or commercial property may be taken for private development purposes without the written consent of the property owner.

The second ordinance prohibits political contributions that a developer can make if engaged on a redevelopment zone project.

Voting “yes” for the ordinance were Councilwomen Patricia Cindea, Kathleen Crippen, Lynn Kegelman, and Sara King and Council President Gavino “Butch” Maccanico.

Councilman John Brennan was the lone “no” vote.

Council passes anti-eminent domain abuse ordinance which Mayor vetoes

Park Avenue resident Evelyn Condello was the first speaker to come to the microphone. After identifying herself for the record, she asked, “Would someone please explain to me what the ‘American Dream’ is?”

 Councilwoman Kathleen Crippen, who chairs the Council’s Legislative Committee and who proposed the ordinance, said, “Evelyn, this ordinance would, in the event of a redevelopment zone, no private residential or commercial property could be taken for economic development without the written consent of the owner.”

“Does that, Mr. Raffetto, contradict the law as it presently reads?” Mrs. Condello asked the Borough Attorney.

 Mr. Raffetto responded, “Well, the municipalities and governmental entities general have the ability to acquire property for economic development. If it were to do so, it would have to be a part of the developmental plan that would be adopted after a redevelopment zone … “

“The planning board or the Council?” Mrs. Condello interrupted.

 “Yes, by the planning board or the Council, absolutely,” Mr. Raffetto agreed. “And that would be known and understood as part of the redevelopment plan that this particular area of town, that there might be acquisitions of property to facilitate the redevelopment and those properties would have to be identified by block and lot in the redevelopment plan and this would set forth that the future policy of Spring Lake Heights being that future councils and planning boards would not be able to include this in a future redevelopment plan unless the property owners provide their consent to their homes or  their property being acquired by the municipality for economic redevelopment purposes.”

“Can I ask you then, would the Fletcher Property fit into this, the way it would be done?” Mrs. Condello inquired, referring to the 2.5 tract of land on Allaire Road the Borough recently acquired through Open Space funding and Green Acres grants.

“The Fletcher Property had not been blighted, that area of town …” Mr. Raffetto began to explain.

 “But under these current things, would that then need to be declared blighted and the process started?” Mrs. Condello asked.

 “Unless the municipality wanted to acquire that property or any other property for a bona fide public purpose for the town, a public purpose, a governmental purpose, a public park, for instance, we always have the right under the Constitution that as long as you pay just compensation to the property owners,” explained Mr. Raffetto.

“And what is considered in certainly a recession, just compensation,” continued Mrs. Condello.

 “Well, that’s determined by appraisers and the Commissioner’s hearings that are undertaken,” said Mr. Raffetto.

 “A state formula?” Mrs. Condello asked.

 “There are appraisers who are licensed who have to go before a panel of Commissioners who are appointed by the assignment judge and the panel of Commissioners makes the determination. It is an argument between two appraisers as to what constitutes fair market value of the property at the date of taking or as the date of blight and …” Mr. Raffetto explained.

 “…and then the homeowner can also get their appraisal,” Mrs. Condello added.

 “Absolutely,” the attorney agreed.

 “And ultimately there is a jury trial,” chipped in Councilman John Brennan.

 “There can be a jury trial. If someone appeals that determination of the Commissioners, then it can go to a jury trial,” Mr. Raffetto expanded.

 “And it would then necessitate cost to the community and the taxpayer for a jury trial for that to go to, correct?” Mrs. Condello said.

“Yes, but in most circumstances where you have redevelopment, and the municipality has appointed a designated redeveloper, the designated redeveloper is funding from an escrow account, all costs and expenses of the municipality to acquire the properties. This is all still very, very premature with the thought that this would ever possibly happen in Spring Lake Heights,” Mr. Raffetto concluded.

 “I understand what you are saying and where you are going, but again, the ‘American Dream,’ each one of us sitting here may have a different American Dream. I mean, let’s call this by what it is. It’s a way of taking property with a homeowner’s signature through eminent domain. Am I describing that correctly?” Mrs. Condello asked.

 “Evelyn, this is a model ordinance that was provided by the Stop Eminent Domain Abuse New Jersey organization and that is their title for it,” noted Councilwoman Crippen.

 “Right, but as Mr. Raffetto just explained that in the development of public land, for parks or other wise …” Mrs. Condello continued.

 “This doesn’t deal with public land, Evelyn, this is purely about the taking of private land for private development. So nobody could …”

 “It would have to go through the whole process then?” asked Mrs. Condello?

 Mayor Enright said, “It would have to be declared blighted.”

“It would have to be with your consent,” Councilwoman Crippen added.

 “What about any senior’s home, that may not be cognizant, would their children be able to sign their property off on it? Has anyone given that any thought?” Mrs. Condello inquired.

 “Well, it is the person who is in charge of the property to the developer …” Councilwoman Crippen began.

“That is my concern, Miss Crippens, right there,” Mrs. Condello stated. “Right there. Give that one question some thought.”

 “We can always go back and expand this,” explained Councilwoman Crippen, “As I said, this is from the Stop Eminent Domain Abuse people. They have come up with guidelines and they are asking municipalities to make a start …”

 “This is a private organization that is funding …” asked Mrs. Condello.

 “It is a non-profit organization,” Councilwoman Crippen noted.

 “Oh, a non-profit organization,” Mrs. Condello said, “Which means …”

 Councilwoman Kegelman then asked Mrs. Condello, “Evelyn, you were saying with regards to seniors, could a child come in and sign off on …”

 “Lynn, you’ve been in guardianships,” Mrs. Condello commented.

“Yes, and I know what I’d do, but I’m asking you a question because I missed a piece of it,” Councilwoman Kegelman said.

“I’m sure you’ve had seniors who have had Alzheimer’s or dementia, and developers or someone may come out and say, ‘we want to take your property and we could do it and give you X amount of dollars’ and recession times this could be lucrative. And can somebody get a signature of a senior?” asked Mrs. Condello.

“That’s not the purpose of this ordinance,” explained Councilwoman Kegelman. 

“Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn,” said Councilman Brennan, “This ordinance … get this … this ordinance deals with political, excuse me, the use of eminent domain powers within a redevelopment zone after there is a designation of blight which there are strict requirements … there are no blighted areas in Spring Lake Heights. It’s never going to happen. This is all about Ms. Crippen’s concerns about Mr. Skellinger’s signs,” referring to a campaign sign put up by a resident.

At this, Councilwoman Crippen burst out laughing. “I proposed this ordinance over a year ago,” she noted.

“At this moment in time, we are talking about hypotheticals,” Mrs. Condello continued. “Okay? Could be, would be, should be. Could be. I also at this point in time am posing a situation. We are saying, Kat is saying that a non-profit has proposed, is encouraging this. I know seniors that have been in eminent domain areas in Neptune and some of their concerns and believe me, I have listened to them. Okay? And I have talked to them. It’s not something … it’s scary. “

“Evelyn, this gives the seniors another bar that people just can’t come in and take their property but they would have to consent,” explained Councilwoman Kegelman. “Now if you had a senior who had dementia, they do not have the capacity to consent but you have to be adjudicated incapacitated. Therefore, you have to go to court, the children can go to court and have their parent declared incapacitated and then they have the right to sign on their parent’s behalf to deny the taking of their property. So this is a bar, another bar, to help the family members not lose their property.”

“All’s I’m saying is that I want to make sure that there are safeguards in place. This doesn’t tell me … I’m not hearing that that safeguard is in place, not necessarily in place for the circumstances that I presented,” Mrs. Condello argued. “Now, Mr. Raffetto, can they be put in place? Are there additional measures that could be written in?”

“The ordinance can always be modified,” stated attorney Raffetto, “Right now, it indicates that you need to have the written consent of the owner.”

“Of the owner?” said Mrs. Condello. “But it does not further define ownership as to inheritance, as to, you know, signing it over or anything like that? The way it is written right now?”

“Whoever is the record owner of the property,” stated the attorney. “And if that person has given a power of attorney, for instance, to other family members, then other family members will be able to act on their behalf.”

“Sometimes they don’t know they need that, and they sign. Sadly enough. And that happens. And I know it happens way to often sometimes,” Mrs. Condello remarked. “The thing is that I would ask this one again, give this real thought. Here we’re talking about a time in the future. Ten, fifteen, twenty years in the future. It could be any one of us. It could be any one of us. Give it some thought.”

“Evelyn, we’ve given it thought,” explained Councilwoman Crippen. “This has been around for a year or better.”

“All I’m asking is to give it some continued thought at this point,” Mrs. Condello finished.

“Would anyone else like to speak,” asked Mayor Enright. “Rita? Could you give your name and address, please?”

Rita Murphy of Highway 71 approached the microphone next. “The principal of eminent domain will cause the town to take your property for the greater public good, so to speak, and that this particular ordinance is to kind of put a measure into place for the taking of property for private development and not public use.”

“Correct,” said Councilwoman Crippen.

“So, in other words, the houses on Route 71 that everyone seems to always go for first – which is where I happen to live – in other words, those particular houses, where those houses are, whether they are zoned commercial or whatever, this would give protection so that for instance when I walk in to pay my taxes I wouldn’t find out that someone had already made off with my property. “

“Correct,” reiterated Councilwoman Crippen.

“Well, before any of this happens, your property has to be declared blighted,” said Mayor Enright. “It has to go through that whole process. It can’t happen over night.”

“No, and I understand that,” Mrs. Murphy answered. “However, do you have car insurance? Because you have to, right? Do you own an umbrella, because you think it might rain? Doesn’t matter that it may never rain in New Jersey again, you own one, don’t  you? And a fireplace? Don’t you stock it with firewood because it might get really cold? And that’s what that’s about. And honestly, the taking of private property for private redevelopment? I absolutely support that you would put this in place as a start and I didn’t think about Evelyn’s points and it’s true, although I don’t know it is the responsibility of the municipality to learn about the family relationships of a property owner. I don’t know. I have powers of attorney, but I have checkpoints on them.”

“It would be deemed a fraudulent conveyance,” Councilwoman Kegelman added. “And there are other punitive and criminal procedures that are in place. “

“Well, anyone who is in favor of entering this ordinance, I whole-heartedly support it, because I don’t think that, you know, walking into town hall and finding out that you gave my property to a private developer would go over very well. And I take it, as I said, as an umbrella in case of rain,” Mrs. Murphy concluded.

“Mrs. Murphy, do you think your property is blighted?” asked Councilman Brennan.

“Absolutely not,” Mrs. Murphy returned, “But you might.”

“No, no, there is objective criteria that needs to be applied and that is the law. There are laws that say …” Councilman Brennan shot back.

“You know, there is a man from Long Branch who had a magnificent Victorian home,” Mrs. Murphy explained, “That he restored lovingly. Well, it’s gone, and there are 8 units in its place. It wasn’t blighted. It was magnificent. It was a landmark.”

“And that was subject to eminent domain?,” Councilman Brennan asked. “You know that for certain?”

“Yes,” responded Mrs. Murphy.

“He didn’t just sell it to them?” Councilman Brennan questioned.

“No,” Mrs. Murphy said. “And some of those people still haven’t gotten their money that they were promised.”

“And Long Branch is a horrible circumstance,” Councilman Brennan agreed.

“You know, you should call Peter Wegener,” Mrs. Murphy said.

“I know Pete Wegener, I work with Pete Wegener,” Councilman Brennan said heatedly.

 “I think he has successfully also defended some cases,” explained Mrs. Murphy.

“I know Pete Wegener, I work with Pete Wegener,” Councilman Brennan repeated. “And I also know that Pete Wegener, he would have called this ordinance outwards for what it is, and that is political posturing. There is no blighted area in Spring Lake Heights, no one has identified a blighted area in Spring Lake Heights, there’s never going to be a redevelopment zone, and there’s never going to be an eminent domain taking in Spring Lake Heights.”

“Thank you, John,” said Mayor Enright. “Any other discussion on this, Rita?”

“Just that I look on it as the beginning of an insurance policy and I think it would be a good thing to have in place. Thanks,” ended Mrs. Murphy.

“Any other public discussion? Patty?” said Mayor Enright, recognizing Councilwoman Cindea.

“I would just like to say that this political posturing, at least four people on this Council would like this ordinance,” noted Councilwoman Cindea.

Mayor Enright then recognized Dick Button of Ocean Road to speak. “Does it cost money to pass these ordinances,” he asked.

“Yes,” responded the mayor.

“Well how about we pass ordinances to do something instead of just … you can’t pass a salary and wage ordinance in two years, but all of a sudden, this seems funny that all of a sudden it comes election time and this stuff comes up and this is my comment and I think it is a waste of money. What about this pay-to-play? Why wasn’t this introduced before now? I don’t understand why this just comes up at this time,” Mr. Button belabored.

“Because, Mr. Button,” Councilwoman Crippen explained, “we spent so much time going back and forth with the salary and wage ordinances. There is only so much you can accomplish at one meeting without keeping everyone here until midnight. So we were trying to space them out. And the salary and wage and the budget were more important.”

“And you talk about people sueing you. Did they sue you because you did not pass the wage and salary,” Mr. Button asked.

“No, no, no, if we had passed it,” Councilwoman Cindea explained. “We were concerned about that. We haven’t passed it yet, Mr. Button. We haven’t passed a salary and wage ordinance yet. Once we pass a salary and wage ordinance, once we get past the 20 days, they have 45 days to sue us. We haven’t passed anything because of the petitions that Mr. Brennan put around.”

“Objection,” complained Councilman Brennan.

“Any other public, I don’t want to miss anyone again,” said Mayor Enright. “Miss Cindea?”

“I would like to say, though, that the ordinances do carry a price and you can look at what is going on down in Toms River with the Board of Education down there,” Councilwoman Cindea said. “With pay-to-play, with all these ordinances that Kat, Councilwoman Crippen, introduced tonight do effect long-term the Councils. Next week, we could have a change in government and the next Council could repeal these, that’s completely doable. And if that happens, then you are at a disadvantage. The public is at a disadvantage. Because right now, making certain – for instance, the pay-to-play – that has been talked about before. That has been put up before to this Council and has been voted down and you have to ask yourself, ‘why?’ Prior councils, Mr. Button, have voted down – when Mayor Malick was in office – voted down pay-to-play and  you have to ask yourself why.”

“There’s never been an ordinance for pay-to-play introduced ….”  began Councilman Brennan.

“Yes, there has,” returned Councilwoman Cindea, referring to attempts in 2004 by Councilman Richard Gannon and Councilman John Brennan to introduce pay-to-play legislation at the time.

“It’s the state law, it’s the state law,” said Mayor Enright. “Anyone else? Can I have a motion to adopt and advertise?”

Municipal Clerk Theresa Casagrande then noted she needed a roll call vote to first close the public hearing. After the vote was taken, the motion to adopt and advertise the ordinance was made and seconded by Councilwomen Cindea and Crippen.

“Any discussion?” asked the Mayor.

“Your honor, I pose the same question,” said Councilman Brennan. “I am voting no unless somebody up here specifically identifies an area in Spring Lake Heights they believe could be blighted according to the objective criteria of the law.” 

“Thank you, John. Anyone else? Could I have the roll call, please?” asked the Mayor. 

Councilwomen Cindea, Crippen, Kegelman and King voted yes. Councilman Brennan was, again, the lone “no” vote. 

“I just want to comment,” said Mayor Enright. “I do have concerns about the expense of all this and I just might veto these. Not the pay-to-play but the last two which the Council next time certainly can pass but I have a problem with spending the money and our Master Plan says we are not going to have redevelopment, so I don’t know why we even need them.” 

At that, an attendee to the meeting, Mrs. Barbara Amoscato Sabitis whose family owns a number of properties along the upper portion of Route 71, burst into applause before leaving the meeting.

 Mayor Enright subsequently vetoed the ordinance. The Council will vote on overriding the veto at the Monday,  November 8 meeting.

Council Passes but Mayor Vetoes Strong Ordinance Prohibiting Campaign Contributions by Developers in a Redevelopment Project

At the Monday, October 25 regular meeting of the Borough Council, the public hearing was held for an ordinance geared toward preventing developers from making political contributions, in the event of a redevelopment project.

 Present were Mayor Enright and Council members John Brennan, Patricia Cindea, Kathleen Crippen, Lynn Kegelman, and Sara King. Council president Butch Maccanico was absent.

After the municipal clerk read the ordinance title, the mayor opened the public hearing, asking, “Would anyone like to speak to that?”

Park Avenue resident Evelyn Condello came to the microphone. “I haven’t been here for the last three meetings and maybe you can just catch me up,” she asked. “Could we have a little bit of an explanation about this? This is redevelopment in what way? Blighted areas, non-blighted areas, housing, all development?”

Councilman John Brennan said, “It’s got to be a blighted area. The way that it works, Evelyn, is that, if this were adopted, it would prohibit any developers from making political contributions to Spring Lake Heights local political parties and if you could find any developers who would like to be participating in a redevelopment zone. Of course, in order to have a redevelopment zone some future Borough Council would have to create a redevelopment center pursuant to the state law and in order to create a redevelopment zone there has to be a blighted area. So, of course, there are no blighted areas in Spring Lake Heights. I’ve asked the Council, I’ve asked them to name an area within Spring Lake Heights which would be subject – which they would consider to be blighted – that they would like to create a development zone in, so to make this a meaningful ordinance, and I have not gotten a response.”

Mrs. Condello responded, “Okay, well. I’ve made some inquiries as to what would be a blighted zone and there are pretty tight requirements by the state. You all know Long Branch, you all know Neptune has been involved in this for quite some time and I’ve known people who have been on both sides of those issues in both towns. I don’t understand why there is a need for this in Spring Lake Heights right now. If someone could explain that to me?”

Councilwoman Kathleen Crippen answered, “Because, Evelyn, if in the future … Spring Lake Heights is almost completely built out so any development in the future would be redevelopment because you’re going to have to take something down to build in its place. So, in the event that a redevelopment zone was named, this would limit the political contributions that a developer involved with the project could make. So it is just being proactive for the future.”

 “Can a council bind or tie the hands of future councils?” asked Mrs. Condello.

“It’s an ordinance. It’s a law,” replied Councilwoman Crippen. “It would be the law.”

 Councilman Brennan interjected, “Well, let me me say, Evelyn, I think you put your … Evelyn … Evelyn … I think you put your finger right on the problem with this ordinance which is, there are no blighted areas in Spring Lake Heights. And in order to create a redevelopment zone, to which this applicable, we would have to have a blighted area and the Council would have to say, designate this area as blighted and we’re going to create a redevelopment zone and we’re going to invite contractors to put in proposals to develop the redevelopment zone, that’s when this would become effective and have some sort … “

“I can understand why you would want to limit contributions by developers so there are no special interests,” Mrs. Condello said.

“That makes sense,” Councilman Brennan agreed.

 “That part does make sense but I mean, again, I’m coming in after having not been here for 3 weeks, er, 3 meetings at least,” Mrs. Condello continued. “What I don’t understand, thinking in the future, I could possibly think of maybe two, possibly three areas, that may be considered for this. But the criteria by the state is stringent and I really don’t think we would meet those areas unless we have areas like Fairway Mews goes under and something happens to that large area. The North end of town. The cottages at the south end of town. Those are some of the only places I can imagine.”

“Evelyn, right now because new jersey has some of the weakest eminent domain laws in the country,” commented Councilwoman Crippen, who proposed the ordinance. “You could say that something is blighted because you could build a bigger building on it. So if there is a lot with a building in it, it’s not built out to the maximum coverage, the town could actually use that as an excuse that your lot could be used for something else and that’s the basis for what happened in Long Branch and other towns.”

 Mrs. Condello asked, “… and my understanding of the state is that with eminent domain the way it reads right now it can go to private developers?”

 “Yes,” Councilwoman Crippen said.

 “No, that’s only when there is a redevelopment zone and Ms. Crippen is misstating, respectfully, misstating what the status of the law is,” protested Councilman Brennan. “To have a blighted area you have to have certain criteria that are met and I’ve asked all the council members here to tell me so that I can make a meaningful decision about this ordinance where they think there is an area in Spring Lake Heights that needs to be blighted and redeveloped. And I’ve heard no response.”

 “I think that there is no area currently in Spring Lake Heights that is blighted, however, that blighted question comes after a redevelopment zone is established,” Councilwoman Patricia Cindea said.

 “No, it has to go the other way, Patty, I’ve checked into this and it has to go the other way,” Mrs. Condello replied, “Fred, can I have your opinion? Fred?”

 Mayor Enright recognized the borough attorney, Fred Raffetto, saying, “Fred, would you … Fred is aware of this from Asbury .”

 Mr. Raffetto stated, “There are standards that are set forth in the local redevelopment and housing law and in order for a municipality to make a declaration of blight, it is something that both the governing body needs to do as well as the planning board. There has to be a public hearing and the case law that has been evolving – this is very much an evolving area of the law – has made it more and more stringent for municipalities to declare an area in need of redevelopment. But there is specific criteria, for instance I happen to be looking at the law right now, one of the criteria: the generality of the buildings is substandard, unsafe, unsound, dilapidated, or obsolescent.”

 “That’s rather subjective, is it not, Fred?” Mrs. Condello asked.

 “Exactly,” said Councilwoman Crippen. “That’s the problem, Evelyn.”

 Mr. Raffetto went on to say, “But there are standards that have been set forth in recent cases that have come down and it is more and more difficult, generally, for municipalities to make that determination.”

 “Fred, about how many court cases have been handled on this?” quizzed Mrs. Condello.

 “Well, first the Kelo case that affirmed the ability of municipalities to undertake the eminent domain process for private redevelopment, but then there have been specific cases in New Jersey, I would say between five and ten, at least since the Kelo decision that have refined the requirements associated with declaring an area in need of redevelopment,” attorney Raffetto responded.

 “And that has been tightening them up each time if I am hearing you correctly,” Mrs. Condello said.

 “Correct,” the attorney responded.

 “Okay. I don’t know how much thought we really have given to this,” Mrs. Condello remarked. “And I don’t know if this is the time or the place to do it. I would just … has everyone read the criteria as to what goes into it? Patty, have you? Sara? Lynn, you probably have. Kat, you probably have read all the criteria in the things that go into this. Honestly, have you read them?”

 “You know what?” Councilwoman Cindea said, “As far as I am concerned anything that puts a bar that we have to go over as Council, I’m for it. Pay-to-play? Bring it on. As far as I’m concerned, if it is going to make us more honest, which is what these three ordinances are about, the people that proceed us …”

 Mrs. Condello interrupted, “I understand that. I’m not questioning your honesty, I would think everyone on this council … “

 “That’s what this is about,” Councilwoman Cindea finished.

 “The thing is, I just don’t know … ,” Mrs. Condello continued.

 Councilwoman Kegelman attempted to explain, “If I can answer you, it is putting everyone on notice that this town will not take… will not allow its elected officials to take contributions to in any way heed any kind of favoritism to any developers. We right now, we’re living in a vacuum, because we don’t have that blighted area. But at any point, you could have a blighted area. We have gone through a severe recession. You know, anywhere, Tinton Falls – they didn’t have a blighted area and now I’m sure we could go up and pick out a blighted area. So we are not saying there is a blighted area but we want to put developers on notice that if you come into our town, you can’t buy your way in. That’s all it says.”

 “That should be standard within the law the way it is now,” Mrs. Condello protested.

 “you would think., Evelyn, but its not,” Councilwoman Crippen said.

 “ I just saw people taken out in handcuffs when they were taking paybacks and stuff like that from developers,” Councilman Brennan noted. “It’s been in the papers. I think it is against the law to take money from developers.”

 “ … and that includes lunches, dinners, parties, vacations,” noted Mrs. Condello.

 Councilman Brennan argued, “This is something different. This ordinance deals strictly with a situation where a future council makes a determination that there is a blighted area and they want to create a redevelopment zone and when they create the redevelopment zone and the invite contractors to put in some proposals any of those contractors would be prohibited from making political contributions. The problem is that it is so hypothetical about the idea that a blighted area and some future council, it is kind of like saying we are not going to allow any outdoor concessions if the Boston Red Sox want to build a replica of Fenway Park at Fairway Mews. It’s never going to happen.”

Mrs. Condello went on, “I can see … now this is my understanding … the previous eminent domain dealt with public right of way and safety. Previous to the … “

 “Generally, the ability of a municipality or governmental entity to take private property is always premised upon, that it is always being for public use like parks, schools, that type of thing. Redevelopment contemplates something different, whether or not you are taking the property and turning it over to a developer for private purposes,” answered attorney Raffetto.

 Mrs. Condello asked, “… of which they then, whether they contribute to a campaign or not, but they profit from it. Is that so?”

 Several council members said “yes” in agreement.

 Mayor Enright then noted, “Can I just add that in our current master plan for the town which we did in 2008, it says the Borough of Spring Lake Heights does not have any existing or proposed redevelopment areas recommended at this time. So, to me, that kind of says our planning board and the Council have already said that we’re not going to have any redevelopment so I just don’t think it is necessary because it says that in the master plan. We can’t do that without changing the master plan, approval of the council, having hearings, it would be pretty involved.”

 “…  and having a blighted area,” added Councilman Brennan.

 “ … and having a blighted area,” agreed Mayor Enright.

 Mrs. Condello then asked, “Can I just say that a Council … I think that the intent is well-intended, I think it casts shadows on everyone sitting there that you would have to have it put into ordinance that you wouldn’t be honest just because it isn’t there now. And that makes me feel really sad. I mean it really does.”

“What are you talking about?” Councilwoman Cindea asked for clarification.

 Mrs. Condello continued, “All of you. The thing is, I do know the criteria by the state is stringent and I understand this is dealing with a developer. We don’t know who the future players will ever be. And I think you really need to take and give it more thought maybe research a little bit more. That’s just my personal opinion.”

 The Mayor then thanked Mrs. Condello for her statements, and asked “Would anyone else like to speak to this?” Seeing no other members of the public wanted to speak, the public hearing was closed on a motion and second by Councilwoman Kegelman and Councilwoman Cindea. Councilwoman Kegelman and Councilwoman Crippen made the motion and second to adopt the ordinance and advertise in accordance with the law.

 The Mayor asked for any further discussion, and Councilman Brennan said, “Yes, mayor, I just have a question. I posed it two weeks ago and I would like to pose it again to my fellow council members Would someone please tell me any area in Spring Lake Heights that they consider that could be considered blighted for purposes of creating a redevelopment zone.”

“Any area,” said Councilwoman Kegelman.

“Yes, any area,” agreed Councilwoman Crippen.

 “No,  I want to know specific areas … is there … because I don’t know of any. I’m just wondering,” protested Councilman Brennan. “Because I cannot vote for this and truthfully, you want to talk about being honest? I think honesty compels us to say that this is a charade, because this is fanciful and I just don’t understand it. Please tell me where there is an area in Spring Lake Heights that you consider to be blighted that we would need to create a redevelopment zone so that we would need an ordinance to prohibit developers from making political contributions if they want to participate in the redevelopment zone. I asked that question two weeks ago and gotten no answer, I’m asking it again.”

 Councilwoman Crippen said, “John, you’ve gotten an answer. Everybody said any area could be … “

 Councilman Brennan interrupted, heatedly, “You are saying that, right now, Spring Lake Heights could be … any area of Spring Lake Heights could be subject to being blighted? Is that your position?”

 Councilwoman Cindea responded, “Anywhere along 71, especially if you own a property along the highway.”

 “Where specifically along 71 do you think is blighted, Ms. Cindea?” Councilman Brennan demanded.

 “ I’m just saying “could be,” Councilwoman Cindea responded. “You said “could be.”

“I’m asking, where do you think is the blighted area?” insisted Councilman Brennan.

 “I don’t think so…. “ Councilwoman Cindea attempted to answer.

 “Where do you think in Spring Lake Heights is a blighted area?” Councilman Brennan again demanded.

 “Just vote no,” said Councilwoman Cindea.

 “I’m going to vote no, because I can’t get an answer,” Councilman Brennan stated.

 The Mayor then asked if there were any more discussion. As no member asked to be recognized, she then requested the roll call vote for the ordinance barring political contributions from developers in the event of a redevelopment zone.

 Councilwomen Cindea, Crippen, Kegelman, and King all voted yes. Councilman Brennan was the lone “no” vote.

Subsequently, the Mayor vetoed the ordinance. The council will vote to override the veto on Monday, November 8 at 8:00 PM.