Eminent domain fiasco riles residents

January 23, 2008 4:35:20 PM PST
In Trenton, it's a story of eminent domain, which means the state can seize private property for public use in exchange for fair compensation. But the public use has yet to happen and at least one homeowner is irate. Nursing assistant and father of 2 Yusuf Tafari is reacting to news that K. Hovnanian, the country's leading real estate developer, will not be building a $20-million townhouse project near his home at the site of the old Champale factory on Lamberton Street. Stung by plummeting homes sales and record loses, the company says the plan no longer makes economic sense.

Tafari is upset because the property he's owned since 1999 was one of a dozen seized by eminent domain to make way for the project.

Yusuf tells us, "It really brings forth the cliché "you can't fight city hall," because they did it without my knowledge, consent or desire. Eminent domain that should have never happened. You see they were never fair about this at all."

South ward councilman Jim Coston acknowledges some homeowners were treated poorly in the push to acquire properties.

"The first thing we need to do is go back to the property owners and make them whole again. You know, we can give them the property back. Whatever settlement they made they can give back and we can be free and clear," says Coston.

Although this project has failed, many people are convinced the Champale property is a great piece of land that can and should be developed.

Community activist Frank Sasso says, "I believe another developer can come in a put a plan together and I think we should look at all development plans, not just some big name brand."

A Hovnanian spokesman says the company is still talking to the city about the Champale property. In the meantime Yusuf Tafari feels like he's been taken advantage of and wants the chance to reclaim his property before the next project is planned.