September 02, 2005

Eminent Domain: A Threat to Private Industry

Published in the September 1,2005 edition of the Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains - Fanwood Times.

As a child growing up in Union County it seemed as though the Garden State Parkway had always been there cutting a broad stripe through Clark, Cranford and Kenilworth as it wound it’s way South past the sand pits in Perth Amboy and North to my Aunt Virginia’s house in North Arlington.

I vaguely recall sitting in the back seat of the family’s Nash listening to the grown-up conversation up front which would usually turn to the graves which were moved near Bloomfield to make way for the “super highway”.

Shivers would run down my spine at the eerie thought of driving over what was once a cemetery and was now the GSP. Though the Nash is gone and Aunt Virginia moved to Florida years ago the thought of the government taking land for what is termed the public good still gives me shivers.

Since the recent Supreme Court decision some weeks back Eminent Domain has frequently made headlines with stories about mobile home parks considered a blight on the landscape, Mom and Pop stores in the way, retirees transplanted from the old homestead and small manufacturing companies and their employees being faced with closure and job loss.

However there is a new twist to the old story and simply put the court has ruled that private property can be forcefully acquired by a government entity and than turned over to a private developer for just about anything if it is in the best interest of the community’s economic development, all at fair market value of course.

Most of us can understand making room for a highway exit ramp or new firehouse in our community but as Americans we are extremely territorial and the thought of our community giving a piece of our backyard tomato garden to a new Home Depot or Target Store just doesn’t sit too well nor should it.

To be honest I doubt that the average Union County homeowner need be concerned but as a candidate for county office I probably should be paying attention to an Eminent Domain situation which is bubbling up in the town of Linden.

It seems that the municipality has been attempting to pass to a private developer several hundred acres in the Trembly Point section of the city. Part of the private property is own by the firm ISP and the other part is owned by no less than the DuPont Corporation and neither company is willing to give up what they own.

It comes as no surprise that the developer’s legal representation is being provided by state Senator Ray Lesniak whose district just so happens to border the properties that the city has been trying to take over.

Now we learn the latest development is that the Union County Improvement Authority has entered the fray and took over this Eminent Domain project from the City of Linden last month. The Improvement Authority is an arm of our county government with the Executive Director, Charlotte DeFilippo, on the county payroll and it stands to reason that this would make the county the responsible party at some level. It should also be pointed out that Lesniak’s firm, Weiner Lesniak of Parsippany, has in the past represented other developers who also wanted to build on this very same property. Interesting to say the least when one considers that Senator Lesniak is a powerful Democratic State Senator and Ms DeFilippo is the chair of the county Democratic Party.

Eminent Domain is certainly a most unpleasant way to promote the economic development of any municipality or county but relax folks the family home is certainly safe as it appears that certain high profile individuals in Union County may have much larger fish to fry; now this gives me the shivers.