Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Is It Eminent Domain or Land Grab in Emerson?

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Is It Eminent Domain or Land Grab in Emerson?

Article excerpt

Emerson is going down a dangerous rabbit hole supposedly in the name of affordable housing. The Borough Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday to seize four properties in the downtown that will enable a for-profit developer to build 22 to 29 low- to moderate-income apartments — and retail stores, more than 100 additional market-value apartments and a parking garage — if the owners don't agree to voluntarily sell to the developer. Get the picture? This isn't about affordable housing.

The notion that government can seize private property for the public good is, even in its purest form, a hard pill to swallow. But without eminent domain, roads, bridges and even hospitals might never be built across the country. Historically, politics often have played a large part in determining which neighborhoods get paved over for a highway and which ones survive. But in Emerson, the public good is hard to see. Last year, the borough reached an agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, an affordable-advocacy group, which may satisfy the borough's affordable-housing obligations. The ordinance approved by the Borough Council on Tuesday says the borough can take the four parcels under both the state Local Redevelopment and Housing Law and the Fair Housing Act. The council has designated the parcels as blighted. That designation is being challenged in court.

The attorney for the owners of the targeted land says the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law prohibits a municipality from taking property while the "blight" designation is being legally challenged. And the Fair Housing Act does not authorize taking private property and handing it over to a private developer, regardless of whether affordable-housing units are part of the deal.

The developer has five of the nine properties he needs to build his project. Whether the borough would benefit from 20-plus additional affordable-housing units is a red herring. …

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