7/02/2006

Eminent domain foes rally in Westville: (S Jersey) Courier-Post, 6/24/06

By Wilford S Shamlin

Opponents of eminent domain abuse rallied in the drizzling rain during Friday evening's rush hour as a controversial redevelopment project [in Westville NJ] moves toward a final vote.

About 40 residents and elected officials from Westville, Lawnside, Haddon Township and Camden, who gathered outside Grabbe's Seafood Restaurant, screamed and cheered as passing motorists honked their horns.

Participants from other towns simply came to show their support.

"This is our fight, for the people," said Willa Coltrane, 65, whose Oak Avenue home in Lawnside is targeted for redevelopment. "This is our country, and we have to help each other fight this fight."

In Westville, Fieldstone Associates of Doylestown, Pa., has proposed town houses, condominiums, restaurants, commercial and retail stores and a marina in a redevelopment zone along Big Timber Creek, jeopardizing existing homes and a landmark business.

The conceptual plan was unveiled in January 2005, but the borough council, which has final say on the project, has not yet taken a formal vote.

"Eminent domain is wrong," said Sue Rodgers, a Republican councilwoman. "Eminent domain is stealing. Would you want it to be your house?"

Lou Achilles, co-owner of Grabbe's, called the June 2005 Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the government's right to seize property for private development "grievous. They took our rights away," he said.

The protest was organized by We The People of Westville.

Louis Bezich, owner of Public Solutions, a public relations firm representing Fieldstone, sympathized with the protesters.

"In all of our projects, we view eminent domain as a course of last resort, and that continues to be our policy," Bezich said.

Michael Galbraith, a Democratic mayoral candidate running unopposed, said the borough's elected officials "would never abuse eminent domain."


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