Bond ordinance gives East Brunswick leverage in purchasing property along Route 18

EAST BRUNSWICK–Establishing financial support for the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency, the Township Council adopted a $15 million bond ordinance to purchase property known as Area 3a.

The ordinance pertains to the shopping center where Gap, The Wiz, Office Depot, Mattress Cowboy and the Gabowitz TV & Appliance once stood on Route 18 south near the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike.

East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen said the bond ordinance approved on Feb. 11 will allow Redevelopment Agency members to talk to the owners of all of the properties along the area that is included.

Though the complex has been vacant for years, Cohen said there are four different owners, with the largest owning the former Gap and Wiz stores.

“It basically allows the town to negotiate with each of those owners for purchasing that property,” Cohen said. “The words ’eminent domain’ appear in that because that is a tool a town has at its disposal to use, but if we can negotiate with the developers or the owners of the property without using eminent domain you can’t even start the conversation unless you have a source of funding.”

Cohen said that is why having a bond approved by the council is important. It means that the agency has been authorized to talk to these developers knowing the township has the funding to make that transaction take place.

“Whether you come to an agreement on a sale price or you can’t and you have to use eminent domain, you can’t do either of those things without having approval from the council so that they are supporting it monetarily,” Cohen said. “It tells the developers that this isn’t just the mayor or an individual group that’s going up to them, but it’s going up to them knowing that we have been supported with the funding to make that transaction occur.”

Cohen said there are misconceptions when it comes to eminent domain.

“I think people think that we are taking it by eminent domain and we are going to pay people 10 cents on the dollar and we are just taking their property. Even if you went to [use] eminent domain you have to get an appraisal, they get an appraisal and you pay fair market value,” Cohen said. “You can’t just tell somebody that you’re taking their property and give them whatever you want. I think a lot of people think that’s what eminent domain actually means.”

Cohen said there is very specific criteria that must be met in order to meet the definition of eminent domain, such as if the property has been blighted, unoccupied and/or there is a public purpose.

“You must [also] go through a legal process that entitles the property owner to his or her fair market value for the property. I just think [eminent domain] sounds bad and it has a bad sense to it,” Cohen said. “If we don’t have to use it then we won’t use it, but there is obviously a redevelopment plan that proposes for that area a much better use for the town. The town has the right through redevelopment laws to use these techniques.”

For more information, visit www.eastbrunswick.org/content/885/101/default.aspx.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.