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Lyons v. City of Camden

Decided: June 6, 1968.

GREGORY M. LYONS, ET UX, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF CAMDEN, CAMDEN CITY PLANNING BOARD, BOTH BODY CORPORATE, POLITIC AND A MUNICIPAL AGENCY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.

Francis

After investigation and public hearing, the Planning Board of the City of Camden on December 30, 1965 declared blighted a section of the City known as the Northshore area. N.J.S.A. 40:55-21.1 et seq; N.J.S.A. 55:14 A -31 et seq. On February 10, 1966 the City Council, after reviewing the matter, approved the Board's finding and adopted a resolution setting forth its determination that the entire area was blighted. Plaintiffs are a substantial number of home owners who live in one section of the Northshore area. They attack the validity of the blight declaration as far as it includes their section within its scope. When the matter was first before the trial court the action of the local agencies was sustained. We certified the subsequent appeal to the Appellate Division, and after argument in this Court remanded the matter to the trial court for further consideration. 48 N.J. 524 (1967). That was done because our examination of the record indicated that the plaintiffs had not been accorded an adequate opportunity to cross-examine the municipal witnesses and to introduce proof of their own to negative the finding of blight as it related to their locale. Thereafter, a full hearing was conducted in the Law Division. At the conclusion thereof, the trial judge reaffirmed the blight determination and filed an exhaustive opinion setting forth his supporting reasons. On plaintiffs' application we certified the matter directly from the trial court.

As we have indicated, the part of the City involved is called the Northshore area. It consists of 272.45 acres and based upon the proof has "sound" boundaries in accordance with recognized municipal planning criteria. It is bounded

on the west by the New Jersey Channel of the Delaware River; on the north by 36th Street, the boundary line between Camden and Pennsauken; on the east by a proposed 155-foot wide right-of-way, a reconstruction of Harrison Street running from State Street to 36th Street; on the south by State Street and Cooper River. Much of the soil in the area contains river mud and marsh which present foundation design difficulties. A sewage treatment and disposal plant is located north of 27th Street. It was estimated that there are approximately 100 abandoned barges along the shoreline of the area declared blighted.

Most of the area, 210.67 acres of the 272.45 acres involved or 77.3%, consists of undeveloped land; 23.66 acres are streets and rights-of-way, many of the streets being paper streets. Seventy-four per cent of the vacant land is owned by the City of Camden; 47 acres of this are under water between the shoreline and the United States Pierhead and Bulkhead line; 85 acres are used for a city dump. Developed land is generally concentrated in two locations. One is between 27th and 30th Streets; the other extends from Beideman Avenue to 36th Street. Residential land occupies 11.61 acres, commercial, 11.07 acres, industrial, 8.28 acres, and land in public use, 7.16 acres. There are 198 structures in the entire area, of which 168 are dwellings. Eighty-nine or 53% of the dwellings were described as substandard by the Planning Board's experts; 33 others were said to have significant deficiencies. Approximately 4.3% of the total area is devoted to residential use. About 6.76 acres or 58% of the 11.61 residential-use acres are occupied by the substandard houses. Fourteen of the residential structures are unoccupied and in such state of disrepair as to be untenantable. Twenty-three residential structures are not connected to the City sanitation system. Many of the residences are 40 years old or more. Many of the residence lots are very small, with little or no front or side yards. The entire area was said to be subject to fires, 255 fire calls having been made from 1961 through 1965. The streets servicing the

residential area were described as inadequate, particularly the one collector street.

Of the 30 non-residential buildings, 14 were intended for industrial and manufacturing use; three of these 14 are vacant and dilapidated and considered untenantable. Six of the remaining 16 contain critical deficiencies and are classed as substandard.

The plan envisioned for the entire 272.45 acre tract was development of an integrated community within Camden's Northshore. It would include housing, a community center, a school or schools, churches and recreational areas. There was expert testimony showing that use of the entire acreage was necessary to bring the plans to fruition.

As has been indicated above, the residential portion of the area declared blighted is almost entirely between 27th and 36th Streets. Its north-south boundaries are between the northerly side of 27th Street and the northerly side of 36th Street (the northerly boundary of the entire tract found blighted); the east-west boundaries are between Harrison Avenue (the 155 foot right-of-way) and the Delaware River channel. All of the plaintiffs' homes are within this area. For purposes of presenting their claim, plaintiffs have divided the blighted territory into two parts. The portion just described, where their homes are located, is referred to as the "smaller area"; the remainder of the Northshore area is called the "larger area." The dividing line between the two is 27th Street.

Plaintiffs make no attack of any consequence on the declaration of blight so far as it relates to the larger area, south of 27th Street. They claim, however, that the smaller area containing their homes is not blighted and can be conveniently excluded from the total acreage by using 27th Street as a natural boundary. Therefore, they contend the determination of blight, to the extent that it includes the smaller area, is ...


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