By Christine Varno
Anna DeFaria’s 21/2-year battle with the city of Long Branch came to a climax a week ago.
That was when she received a letter giving her two weeks to negotiate the sale of her longtime home or lose it through eminent domain proceedings.
“When I read the letter I was devastated,” said DeFaria, Marine Terrace.
“I am 80 years old and a widow. Where do you go if they take your home away?”
DeFaria has lived in her oceanfront home for 45 years and raised her four children in the house.
“It was my first home, and my family loved it here,” she said.
“I feel safe and secure here. I thought I would stay here until I died.”
Rose LaRosa, DeFaria’s neighbor in the three-street zone slated to be bulldozed and redeveloped as upscale housing, described the moment she received a similar “14-day letter” as “dreadful.”
“It is so unbelievable that something like this could happen here in America,” LaRosa said. “It is a nightmare.”
LaRosa inherited her home in 1983 from her parents, who bought the home at the corner of Ocean and Marine terraces in December 1943.
“My brother had come home on leave (during World War II), and we were looking at homes to buy,” LaRosa said. “My father showed him this house, and my brother told him when the war was over we should buy it.”
But three months later, LaRosa’s brother died in a plane crash, and she said her father immediately went to the Long Branch shore and bought the home in his memory.
“I love it here,” she said. “My history is this home. I take care of this house with love. The city does not want our home because we are blighted, they want it because we are in a desirable location.”
The letters both neighbors received from the city read: “We prefer to acquire the property by mutually acceptable agreement and do acquire most parcels in this manner. However, if we are unable to reach a negotiated agreement with an owner at what appears to be a fair price, the city is authorized by law to resort to statutory condemnation proceedings.”
DeFaria and LaRosa are among the 38 property owners in the three-street neighborhood known as MTOTSA (Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue), some of whom have received letters from the city giving them two weeks to negotiate the purchase of their homes by the city before eminent domain proceedings begin.
Among the city’s six redevelopment zones, the area is designated Beachfront North, Phase II. Plans call for redeveloper MM-Beachfront North II — consisting of co-developers Matzel & Mumford, a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, and the Applied Cos., Hoboken — to bulldoze the neighborhood and construct three buildings consisting of a total of 185 luxury condominium units in its place.
An alliance of MTOTSA residents has retained Peter H. Wegener, of Bathgate, Wegener and Wolf, Lakewood, who said last week that the group’s position is to reject the offers in the 14-day letters, based on the belief that the city is abusing its power of eminent domain.
For residents who choose not to negotiate with the city, such as the MTOTSA alliance, 14 days after the letter is received the city can file a complaint asking the state Supreme Court to determine if the process of eminent domain was properly exercised; the judge will then determine a fair value for the property, according to Wegener.
An order is then filed in the courts, asking for a final judgment for the taking of the properties, according to Wegener, who said that at that hearing, MTOTSA will raise the objection that proper eminent domain proceedings were not followed and will move to dismiss.
Members of MTOTSA will stage a rally at 2 p.m. Saturday to bring attention to what they say is a violation of their constitutional right to own property.
The rally will begin with a walk from Ocean Terrace to Morris Avenue and back, followed by a screening of the movie “The Castle.”
The group will be joined by representatives of the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in the protection of private property rights when eminent domain is not used for public purpose.
The rain date for the rally is Oct. 22.
DeFaria said she sees the rally as a walk of hope.
“We hope that the rally will help eminent domain cease,” she said. “I have a lot of faith. It is your home and you have to do what you can to fight for it.”
She said redevelopment and eminent domain are a nationwide crisis that is not going away anytime soon.
“There has to be a guinea pig, and if we cannot save our own homes, then let us be the guinea pigs for everyone else,” she said. “Me today, you tomorrow. They are not stopping.”