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Eminent Domain and Redevelopment

April 15th, 2005 by

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this summer whether eminent domain was used appropriately to redevelop waterfront property in New London, Conn. The Court is expected to better define under what conditions government can condemn and acquire private land to serve the public interest.
  •  A Superior Court judge this month blocked Camden officials from using eminent domain to acquire 72 properties as part of a $1.2 billion revitalization effort, until a legal challenge by neighborhood residents to the redevelopment plan is resolved.
  •  Some 20 states have statutes that allow the use of eminent domain in the public interest, including New Jersey.


Though government “taking” of private land for public projects is rarely done in practice, merely invoking the possibility is frequently enough to alarm and mobilize local citizens against the development of housing, stores and parking that might benefit the community at large.

Yet eminent domain may be the only tool available in certain cases for achieving community redevelopment, especially when the site in need of redevelopment requires assembling a mix of small land parcels, or when a minority of landowners are reluctant to sell.

Redevelopment itself is essential to New Jersey’s future prosperity, because it promotes reinvestment in our older cities and suburbs, and slows the need for more greenfield development.

Eminent domain has played a key role in the successful redevelopment of many places, including the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the Riverwalk in San Antonio and along the Hudson River in New Jersey. It has also been misused by some communities, as noted by the New Jersey Superior Court in 1998 when it struck down the use of eminent domain to provide parking for casino limousines.

New Jersey Future believes that long before eminent domain is ever used, local leaders should solicit meaningful public involvement to develop a clear sense of public objectives for what redevelopment can potentially achieve. Eminent domain should be an absolute last resort for projects with clear benefit to the community – including existing residents and businesses – that otherwise would not happen without its application.

Better planning and communications upfront would make the public purpose in using eminent domain apparent. Any use of eminent domain should require evidence that the public benefits of redevelopment outweigh the challenges that will be faced by those who are displaced.

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