A group of property owners, supported by over 150 members of their community, defeated a proposal last night that threatened their homes and businesses with eminent domain.
Harrison Township, N.J., wanted to declare 23 properties in the community of Mullica Hill “in need of redevelopment.” Or as Karen Bigwood, one of the affected homeowners put it, “That’s a sugar-coated way of saying we’re ‘blighted.’” Had that blight designation gone through, the township would have been able to seize small businesses, a dozen homes, a Grange, and a synagogue, and then transfer those properties to a private developer.
Plus, as Karen pointed out in an op-ed, most of the evidence for blight cited in the redevelopment study was bogus: “Lots are criticized for ‘obsolete layout’ or being ‘irregularly shaped,’ while other properties are condemned for lacking parking spaces.”
More galling, many properties are in a historic district. You can see some of these “blighted” homes here.
To fight back, the Institute for Justice met with three concerned property owners on August 1 and helped organize the Citizens Action Committee of Mullica Hill. IJ and New Jersey eminent domain attorney and expert Bill Potter both issued statements to the Township Committee opposing the blight designation. We also sent out press releases, which helped these property owners get media coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer, South Jersey Times, and Courier-Post.
Less than three weeks later, the group rallied the community by going door-to-door with flyers and petitions to pressure the Township Committee to drop their land grab. In the end, the committee voted unanimously to remove 20out of 23 properties from the proposed redevelopment area. As for those other three plots, two of those owners did not oppose the Township’s efforts and the last is owned by the township.
This is just the latest victory for local activists against overzealous redevelopment plans. Back in May, voters in Hackensack, N.J. booted out the entire city council, in part for their abuse of eminent domain.
Unfortunately, property rights haven’t flourished in the rest of the Garden State. New Jersey is just one of six states that has failed to enact eminent domain reform. Luckily, courts have stepped in to offer protections to property owners where the legislature has not; but it’s time the state re-visit the need to reform its laws to ensure charming homes and successful businesses like those in Mullica Hill never find themselves on the chopping block.
— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice