Do you know what eminent domain is? I will refer to our friends at Wikipedia to provide a simple definition, though if you want a more detailed one feel free to click on the link. From Wikipedia:
Eminent domain…is the inherent power of the state to seize a citizen’s private property…with due monetary compensation, but without the owner’s consent.
In simpler terms, the process of eminent domain allows the government to take private property so long as they pay you a decent sum for the property. If you dig a little deeper, the property is supposed to taken only to be used for the public good. For example, if you are familiar with Deal Road in Ocean Township, you’ll know that the museum sits towards the end of the road closest to Route 35. You’ll also know that there was some road work performed to widen Deal Road near the entrance and exit areas of the museum. In order to widen the road, the township had to acquire some two or three feet of a homeowner’s lawn. The homeowner cried eminent domain abuse, but no one listened because this is exactly what the law is in place to do!
However, you may have heard the cry of eminent domain abuse in connection with some other developments along the Jersey Shore (or whatever neck of the woods you’re in). In the City of Long Branch, for example, the MTOTSA (Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, and Seaview Avenue residents’ association) fought against Long Branch’s designation of their properties as “blighted.” And you know what? They won.
Due to my current and immediately former employment situations, I’ve worked with many organizations that work both for and against the use of eminent domain. The biggest common denominator that I’ve found in every discussion is the lack of understanding of what eminent domain is all about. In fact, I HAVE uncovered many cases of eminent domain abuse…but in the opposite direction – where homeowners have literally extorted development companies who wanted to acquire small parcels of land for developments. It’s gross, really.
Anyway, the people of MTOTSA fought a valiant fight and I’m glad that they won. Their property was NOT blighted and for Long Branch to call it blighted – so it could building another multi-million dollar development on the beachfront – is a bastardization of the eminent domain laws. Some people argue that taking these properties was in the “public’s best interests” because it could generate tax revenues many multiples in excess of what it currently generates. Yet there is no discussion of the increased costs associated with high-density development. The idea is that with higher tax revenues from this one part of town, the rest of the town’s property taxes would be lowered.
One only needs to look at Pier Village (right down the street from the MTOTSA area) to see that you can have all of the tourists in the world coming to your area, but it does not guarantee that the increased revenues will lead to lower taxes. Long Branch’s property taxes went UP this year! And that’s including all of the excess revenue coming from Pier Village. Talk about being sold a bill of goods…
Congratulations to the MTOTSA organization for scoring a well-deserved victory in a very tough fight!