New Jersey City Council Tries to Use Eminent Domain on Property Owners, Gets Swept Out of Office

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Some­times you can beat City Hall.

Michael Mon­aghan has want­ed to devel­op his prop­er­ty on Main Street in Hack­en­sack, New Jer­sey, just a few miles away from Man­hat­tan.  Yet the city twice denied two appli­ca­tions for banks to build on his land.

Instead, Hackensack’s Plan­ning Board des­ig­nat­ed Michael’s and anoth­er owner’s land as an “area in need of rede­vel­op­ment,” autho­riz­ing the use of emi­nent domain to con­demn and seize the prop­er­ties.  “I’ve stood up and tried to pro­tect my prop­er­ty for the last eight years,” he said in an inter­view with a local paper.

Adding insult to injury, this des­ig­na­tion was com­plete­ly unwar­rant­ed.  Accord­ing to Michael’s attor­ney, Peter Dick­son, the board “did not make the Con­sti­tu­tion­al find­ing of blight­ed, and did not have any evi­dence that would sup­port such a finding.”

Last month, the Appel­late Divi­sion of the state Supe­ri­or Court agreed, rul­ing the Plan­ning Board didn’t prop­er­ly prove that those prop­er­ties were blight­ed and “in need of rede­vel­op­ment.”   The city coun­cil intend­ed to appeal the appel­late court’s decision.

But for­tu­nate­ly for prop­er­ty own­ers, Hackensack’s entire city coun­cil was boot­ed out of office.  The grass­roots group Cit­i­zens for Change won every sin­gle seat on the city coun­cil, despite being out­raised 2:1.  Their slate of can­di­dates suc­cess­ful­ly ran on a plat­form against cost­ly lit­i­ga­tion, nepo­tism, and cor­rup­tion.  (For exam­ple, Hackensack’s police chief was recent­ly con­vict­ed for offi­cial mis­con­duct and insur­ance fraud.)  Cit­i­zens for Change also sharply crit­i­cized Hackensack’s rede­vel­op­ment projects, call­ing them “sweet­heart deals and spe­cial priv­i­leges for polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed prop­er­ty own­ers and developers.”

Abus­ing emi­nent domain is not only rep­re­hen­si­ble, but polit­i­cal­ly unpop­u­lar.  Elect­ed offi­cials should heed Hack­en­sack, lest they face a pub­lic back­lash and lose their seats.



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