Garden State Parkway May Need to Use Eminent Domain Laws to Get Rid of Dangerous Traffic Lights

New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway is working hard to get rid of three dangerous traffic signals in Cape May.

Construction of the on-ramps and overpasses as presently planned would require the destruction of approximately 3.5 acres of wetlands. Conservation laws require that lost wetlands be replaced with other wetlands containing double the acreage, so seven acres of replacement wetlands will be needed. Specific requirements for the replacement wetlands include that the replacement lands be in the same watershed, in the general vicinity, and east of the Garden State Parkway. Not surprisingly, land that meets all these requirements is limited. Parkway officials have been negotiating with one landowner in the area, retired physician Russell Down. However, in remarks published in the Press of Atlantic City on March 1, 2012, Down said he is not willing to sell his 35 acre property, located off Holmes Landing Road.

Down has been working to develop an oyster farm on his property and does not want to lose all the work he put into the project, which is what would happen if he had to move. Money can be a big factor in situations like this. Down argues that mitigation use for the land could make it extremely valuable

The United States New Jersey State Constitutions clearly state that Down is entitled to “just compensation” for any private property taken via eminent domain for a public use. Article 1, Section 20 of the New Jersey Constitution states: “Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. Individuals or private corporations shall not be authorized to take private property for public use without just compensation first made to the owners.” This protection is also afforded at the Federal level, as the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that that private property may not be taken without just compensation.

New Jersey has specific laws governing the process of setting the value in an eminent domain condemnation of private land. The Superior Court first determines that the condemnation is, in fact, a valid exercise of the laws of eminent domain, and that the authority condemning the land is authorized to do so. Three commissioners are next appointed by the Court to set a value. If either party disagrees with the amount set by the panel of three commissioners, he or she can appeal the commissioners’ award and request a trial by jury in the Superior Court. Eminent domain laws are complicated. If the government is considering condemning your land, you should contact an experienced eminent domain attorney, such as one from McKirdy & Riskin, P.A., immediately. They can advise you on your rights and guide you through the process.