New Jersey Township Tries to Use Condemnation to Squelch Affordable Housing Development
Local governments often abuse the power of eminent domain by taking or threatening to take property for other private parties. Sometimes, however, local governments improperly use their eminent domain power to punish an unpopular landowner or to eliminate a legal use that City leaders find undesirable. Panther Valley in Allamuchy Township is an exclusive gated community that contains 1,500 homes and approximately 80 percent of the township’s population. Two private developers owned parcels of vacant land within Panther Valley, on which they wanted to build affordable multi-family housing in accordance with the New Jersey Supreme Court’s requirement that localities attempt to increase the availability of affordable housing.1 Baker Residential L.P. and Progressive Properties, Inc., owned 426 acres. The land was zoned properly and had been outfitted with sewers and other infrastructure in preparation for future development. However, after the developers obtained all the necessary permits to build their new residences, the Township filed condemnation actions against the property, claiming that it needed the land for “open space preservation, parkland and/or other public purposes.” The developers took the Township to court and alleged that the takings were a pretextual attempt to prevent development of affordable housing in Panther Valley. At trial, the judge agreed with the developers, and held that the state’s requirement that the Township provide affordable housing outweighed any need it might have for open space.2
1 See Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mt. Laurel, 336 A.2d 713 (N.J.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 808 (1975).
2 See Carco Development Corp. v. Allamuchy Township, No. L-277-01, slip. op. at 54 (Hunterdon County Super. Ct. Apr. 26, 2002).