Eminent Domain Sets Off Controversy In Westville

Man May Lose Family Business

NBC 10 | September 20, 2005

WESTVILLE, N.J. -- A battle is brewing in a South Jersey town over the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on eminent domain and the rights of local property owners.

Eminent domain is the legal principle allowing governments to take private property for public use in exchange for compensation. It is used to build roads, schools and neighborhood revitalization projects.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled local officials could also seize homes and businesses for private economic development.

Now, officials of Westville in Gloucester County are considering a proposal to buy out more than two dozen homes and businesses to make way for redevelopment. But some property owners are ready for a fight.

"If I wanted to sell, I'd put up a 'for sale' sign," said Louis Achilles.

Achilles has signs in his home and business denouncing the possibility of the borough taking his property by eminent domain.

Achilles' business is one of about 30 properties on or near the Big Timber Creek that the borough wants to redevelop. His restaurant and seafood business has been in the family for three generations.

"It's our whole life. We worked hard to get this far and we want to turn it over to the boys," Achilles said.

Achilles and other residents recently got letters from the redeveloper offering them a price for their property, and if they don't take it the government will step in.

"We will refer the matter to the borough for formal condemnation," the letter said.

Mayor Bill Packer said that the letters threatening condemnation should not have been sent yet because a redevelopment plan hasn't been finalized.

"At that point, we will look at the plan and sit down with the developer and see if something can't be worked out," Packer said.

"There's no fair price for what's not for sale," Achilles said.

There will be two more public meetings before anyone finally decides what will go on the property. But for many residents, the issue isn't what is built there, but the way the property is acquired.