Westville, N.J., takes another look at eminent domain

Eminent domain has threatened property owners in the Westville, N.J., and they responded creatively to the threat, while enduring the constant uncertainty. The developer pulled out of the project in April, giving city officials the chance to go back to the drawing board–something they’ve apparently done.

The “Residential Homeowner Protection Act” is an ordinance that will be introduced this Wednesday, August 13. It would prevent residential properties from being seized. The protected properties would also include Grabbe’s Seafood Restaurant and Crab House, apparently. The ordinance would still allow Westville to seize homes that have been vacant for over 90 days as well as businesses, one would assume, so it’s not the best local legislation.

Nevertheless, Mayor Russell Welsh, Jr., seems to recognize the problem that an eminent domain threat causes:

“We recognize that for the past three years, these people have been living in unsteady water,” said Welsh, a Democrat up for re-election in November. “They couldn’t put money into their properties, they didn’t know what was going to happen. We need to do something to relieve the anxiety of owners in that specific area so they don’t have to live with the fear that they could possibly lose their house through eminent domain.”

Over the weekend, the Gloucester County Times profiled one of the homeowners, Bob Evans, who was willing to sell for just compensation–something that he never felt was offered. Both property owners and local officials appear hopeful that redevelopment may still occur now that Westville might no longer be divided between officials and protesting property owners. Wednesday’s vote will decide whether or not that happens.