New Jersey Court Tightens Screw on Redevelopment Condemnation
The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court has narrowed the circumstances in which municipalities may condemn land for redevelopment over the objection of the property owner. Glassboro v. Grossman involved an admittedly derelict structure located on approximately one acre that Glassboro included in a redevelopment area in 2000. In 2017, the town filed a condemnation action to acquire the property by eminent domain “for the purpose of redevelopment . . . and for the specific purpose of increasing the availability of public parking.” The property owner contested the condemnation and the town acknowledged that while public parking is one possible use of the property, the property might instead be used for some other purpose related to redevelopment. The property owner contended that the provision in the Local Redevelopment & Housing Law that authorizes municipalities to condemn land that is “necessary for the redevelopment project” requires the town to establish a definitive need to acquire the parcel in question for an identified redevelopment project. The property owner contended that the mere “stockpiling” of real estate land that might be useful for future redevelopment projects is not permitted.
In a January 7, 2019, precedential decision, the Appellate Division agreed with the property owner. The Court stated that “the fact that a parcel is located within a designated redevelopment area does not mean that a municipality may condemn and acquire that parcel at any time without restriction. Instead, the [statute] prescribes that local government can only acquire, through its condemnation powers, a land or building ‘which is necessary for the redevelopment project.’” Focusing on the word “necessary”, the Court decided that assembling land for a future, undefined redevelopment project, which the Court characterized as “land banking” or “land assemblage”, is not permitted. Rather, when a property owner challenges the government’s effort to acquire its property for redevelopment, “there must be an explained linkage between the property to be acquired and the identified project”, and that it “must be justified by a reasonable presentation of supporting proof.” That burden of proof is on the municipality.
Towns often accomplish redevelopment without resorting to eminent domain. Yet when a town does seek to condemn land for redevelopment purposes, the Glassboro v. Grossman decision narrows the circumstances in which it may do so.