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Kimberline v. Planning Board

Decided: March 1, 1962.


Schalick, J.s.c.


This is an action in lieu of prerogative writs to test the validity of a determination of the Planning Board of the City of Camden and the approval of the city council of Camden that a certain area is blighted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1 et seq.

The action against Rutgers, The State University, as a defendant was discontinued at the pretrial.

Plaintiffs own seven properties in the area. The area in question is bounded on the north by the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which spans the Delaware River connecting Camden and Philadelphia; on the west by North Third Street; on the south by Lawrence Street, and on the east by North Fifth Street. The area contains a total of 194 dwelling units, and extends over 15.98 acres, of which 7.19 are in streets and alleys, 4.19 are in dwellings, .16 in

commercial buildings and 4.44 in public and semipublic use. Rutgers, The State University, owns 3.75 acres within the project area. The project area contains a total of 147 structures, of which 104 are predominantly residential structures and 20 are predominantly nonresidential structures, and 41 of which are public or semipublic structures. Two new buildings are in the area, the College Library and the Law School Building of Rutgers.

The housing authority is the agency of the City of Camden which has initiated the determinations. The planning board, pursuant to the provisions of the statute, had studies made of this area and held a public hearing at which plaintiffs and other objectors, including their counsel, were present and heard, which hearing resulted in a determination by the planning board that the area was blighted. The action of the planning board was confirmed by the City Council of the City of Camden. Pursuant to such determination an agreement was entered into between the Housing Authority of the City of Camden and Rutgers, The State University, for a redevelopment of the Camden Campus Project Urban Renewal Area. It was understood that two-thirds of the cost of same would be borne by the Federal Government under the urban renewal laws and one-third borne by Rutgers. Rutgers is the developer under the statutory provisions for the implementation of the renewal project.

Plaintiffs allege that they are property owners in one section of the project area, and it is admitted that they reside in the area bounded by Fourth, Fifth, Lawrence, and Pearl Streets, which is the area where the College Library and Law School of Rutgers are located, and that Rutgers is the owner of many other buildings in this area which are used for educational purposes, but such buildings were once used for residential purposes and have not been modified in their structure on the exterior since the residential use.

Plaintiffs seek to sever the project area into two parts, alleging that the area in which they reside is not blighted although it may be that the other section of the project

area is blighted, and for that reason defendants are not legally entitled to have the entire area adjudged as blighted. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants housing authority, planning board and City of Camden were acting for Rutgers in order that Rutgers may have available for its use the entire project area. Plaintiffs also except to the hearing and its conduct, contending that the findings of the experts were not adequate for such a determination, that all evidence produced was not legally admissible, and that the right of cross-examination was not allowed.

Plaintiffs produced no testimony either by way of experts or otherwise, other than the statements of the objectors who appeared at the hearing and expressed their reasons for objecting. Plaintiffs further placed in issue their contention that Rutgers had purchased several of these properties and had permitted them to deteriorate, and by that means contrived to aid in the deterioration of the properties which contribute to the present blighted state, if it were so determined. Plaintiffs go further and allege that Rutgers has used the housing authority and the City of Camden to accomplish its purpose in seeking title to and control of the property in this area.

Defendants allege that they proceeded in a legal manner, complied with the provisions of the statute which empowers them to act in situations of this kind, and assured themselves of the existence of a developer, Rutgers, before and after their determination which the defendants contend is a sound governmental policy.

The court tried this issue on the basis of the public hearing held before the planning board on June 2, 1961. Additional evidence was received as to location of plaintiffs' properties and general photographs of the area. The record reveals testimony of Mr. Anthony H. Murray, Jr., a member of the firm of Anthony Murray Associates, who were retained by the housing authority to make surveys and prepare plans to be incorporated in an application to the Federal Government for federal assistance for the renewal

of the Camden Campus Project Area, and such survey was conducted in April 1961 of all structures in the project area. That survey included the previous statement of the court herein as to the number of structures, the acreage and other facts heretofore stated. Their findings, based on the survey, were that 94 structures, or 64% of the total, have been classified as containing building deficiencies, and that the area contained a total of 194 dwelling units, of which 154, or 79%, are deficient, which compared with 46% of deterioration of dwelling units in the area in 1950, according to the United States Census survey of housing. To quote the findings of this witness, it was the considered opinion that the area was blighted in terms of the New Jersey Blighted Areas Act for the following reasons:

"1. The generality of buildings used as dwellings and dwelling accommodations therein are substandard, unsafe, insanitary, dilapidated, obsolescent; and are lacking in light, air and space and possess these characteristics to a degree as to be conducive to unwholesome living.

2. The area with buildings and improvements, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use, and obsolete layout are detrimental to ...

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