In the case City of Long Branch v. Anzalone, the city declared an entire neighborhood to be blighted and put a redevelopment plan in place. As part of the plan, a number of homeowners were notified that their homes would be condemned to make way for new buildings, and the homes were appraised by the city’s contractors.
The homeowners objected that the appraisals incorrectly described their homes and that the city’s blanket declaration that the area or their homes were blighted, without providing specific facts supporting that designation, did not justify the condemnation of their homes under the New Jersey state constitution’s blight and eminent domain provisions.
The trial court, however, found in favor of the city.
On appeal, the trial court’s ruling was overturned. The appellate court held that the city could not take private property under a broad definition of blight without specifying and proving how each property’s condition reflected or contributed to the area’s actual blight.
The appeals court agreed with the homeowners that the city had not found actual blight under the state’s constitution, that the record at the city level lacked substantial evidence that could have supported the New Jersey Constitution’s standard for finding blight, and that the absence of substantial evidence of blight warranted the reversal of the trial court’s ruling. It was not enough for the city to simply cut and paste the statutory language of the blight clause in stating the reasons the homes were deemed blighted. In order to take the properties, the appellate court said, the city was actually required to find substantial evidence of how each home’s condition contributed to the area’s blight, and of how the condition of the blighted neighborhood "negatively affects the surrounding areas."
However, in reversing the trial court’s ruling, the appeals court also ordered that the city be given the opportunity to bolster the record and make the necessary findings, if the facts existed to do so, to justify the taking of the properties at issue.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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