By Caralynn Reddig
Homeowners that remain in the Gardens neighborhood of Mount Holly, N.J., were given a bittersweet victory on April 9, 2012. For almost a decade, politicians have been bulldozing rowhomes in the Gardens, systematically destroying a community of minority and elderly folks. The township had been planning to then give the properties to Keating, a developer that promised to build luxury apartments and townhomes much too expensive for the evicted Gardens residents. Watch our video, Scorched Earth: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Gardens of Mount Holly.
Leona Wright, Nancy Lopez, Santos Cruz, and other property owners had filed a lawsuit to keep the homes they rightfully own. But now, the township has stated they have run out of money. They have incurred “$18 million in debt for a project yet to be built.” Township Manager Kathleen Hoffman said she would no longer authorize litigation and sent a “cease and desist” order to everyone involved with the project.
Leona, who moved into her rowhome when her son was in 3rd grade, about 36 years ago, has fond memories of the Gardens community as it once was. So does Nancy Lopez, who also raised her children in the Gardens. Moving to New Jersey from New York, she has spent the past 24 years there. Santos Cruz has owned his home for 19 years, and enjoyed being part of a safe community that he believed to be perfect for raising his children.
Over the years, the township seized the homes of residents who had no interested in selling and bulldozed the neighborhood piece-by-piece, often disregarding damage they caused to homes still occupied by residents. Just three days before Christmas that same year, homeowners like Leona received a letter declaring they would have until January 15 to accept the township’s purchase offer or their homes would be seized using eminent domain.
Olga Pomar, who represented these homeowners in their lawsuit, lamented that her clients “have been living under the fear that their home is going to be taken from them since 2003.” With the end of litigation, the remaining Mount Holly residents can rest much easier now that their homes have been taken off the chopping block—yet the township has made the Gardens nearly uninhabitable. Residents must now deal with the loss of the community they once had and loved. Less than 70 of the 330 homes remain occupied.