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Cramer Hill Residents Association, Inc. v. Primas

July 17, 2007

CRAMER HILL RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION, INC., MARIA CALAF, FELIPE DIAZ, NILDA DIAZ, MAGDA JUSINO, CARMEN LOPEZ, MARCOS LOPEZ, GEORGE MURRAY, DARLENE FIGUEROA, AND WANDA QUILES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, AND ABLETT VILLAGE RESIDENT ASSOCIATION, CENTENNIAL VILLAGE TENANTS' ACTION COUNCIL, CARMEN ARCE, VELLETTA BAILEY, CARMEN BARBOSA, TERESA BELCHER, JAMES BLUE, ELWOOD BROWN, DONALD BROWN, IRIS CAPO, SHAKIA CARNEY, KALISHA CARTER, CARMEN CASTRO, DOLORES CHAPMAN, ERNESTINE CHASE, LYDIA CINTRON, MARIA DIAZ, CARMEN FLORES, LATONYA FORD, BABBETTE GILBERT, LAVERN GILCHRIST, CARMEN ONSALEZ, AIDA GONZALEZ, KAREN HAIRSTONE, CHERYL HALL, SANDRA HILTON, EDNA HINKLE, DEMITRON HUNTER, DAWN JENKINS, ALLEEISH JONES, SHARON JOYCE, VERONICA LOVETT, ELIZABETH MALARE, EUSENIO MARTINEZ, VIRGILIO MATIAS, CARMEN MENDEZ, IVELISSE MERCADO, MONIQUE MITCHELL, ROSE MITCHELL, LAKEISHA MOLOCK, OLGA MORALES, SUGEID MORALES, JOHANNA MUNIZ, KATHERINE MUNIZ, YOLANDA NASH, BELINDA NORRIS, RUTH OLIVERAS, YOLANDA ORTIZ, MIGUEL MORALES, MARISEL PABON, PHYLLIS PERRY, JUANITA PETERS, CHRISTINE PETERS, DEBORAH PHILLIPS, SHARON PHILLIPS, CARMEN PLANTENY, ELIZABETH PONCE, FLOYD POPE, JOSE QUINONES, SAMUEL REYES, ANGEL ROSA, CONRADA SANCHEZ, LINNETTE SANTIAGO, TERESA SANTIAGO, MARY SIMPSON, ARICKA SMITH, ELICIA SOSA, NANCY SURGICK-INGE, LISA TATUM, LUZ VASQUEZ, MARIA VILLANUEVA, ADA WASHINGTON, TONY WHIDBEE, CARMEN ACEVEDO, HILDA AHART, BERNARD BARFIELD, TERESA BERROA, RICHARD BROWN, HANNAH BROWN, CARMEN CARDONA, JESUS CORDERO, MARY CORTES, LINDA DAVIS, REBECCA GARCIA, LESTER GROSSNICK, MARGARET GROSSNICK, MICHAEL HAGAN, JAMES HAULSEY, SARA HERNANDEZ, CLAYTON KING, MARY LEWIS, JOHN MAHER, LARRAINE MAHER, HECTOR MARTINEZ, LISA MELLET, PHILIP MILLS, LUZ PACHECO, LUZI REYES, SAMUEL REYES, ANA RIVERA, CATHERINE RIVERA, JUNEL RIVERA, LIDIA RIVERA, CARMEN SANTIAGO, JOSE SANTIAGO, SAMUEL SANTIAGO, JOSE TORRES, MARIA ACETTY, JOSE GONZALEZ, NELIDA MARTINEZ, VANCE MCMANANY, WANDA NIEVES, MARGARITA RIVERA, SHERMAN ROBINSON, JESENIA ROLDAN, LUZ M. SERRANO, TIFFANY WHITEHEAD, MARIA ABUERTO, LAURA SHARON BAKER, SARA BALDWIN, LISA BOSWELL, LAURA BROWN, NICOLE BURGOS, MARGIT BURKHALTIZ, MILDRED CARABALLO, CYNTHIA CARTER, CARMEN CINTRON, JEANNE CLARK, MARILYN CLARK, GABRIELA COLON, KEVIN DORMAN, CARMEN FIGUEROA, CARMEN GARCIE CORREA, ELMER HAMMOND, ANGEL ISQUIERDO, SHEILA JOHNSON, DELORES JONES, CLARIBEL LARIOS, GERTRUDE LEWIS, ALBERTO LOPEZ, NORMA MATOS, JUANITA MCCOY, AILEEN MEDINA, KYLENE MEDINA, SYLVIA MERCADO, SARA MOJICA, DELIA MOLINA, FELICIA PARKER, JOSEFA PAGON, EDWINA PENNINGTON, TIFFANY PRITCHETT, LUZ RENTAS, JENYTHE RUBERTE, LUCILA SANTIAGO, LETICIA SANTOS, MICHELLE SEDDENS, MARISOL SENQUIZ, CHEKEYA STREATER, DAYSI TARQINI, GENEVIEVE TORRES, LUZ TORRES, BELINDA VANEMAN, BETTY VAZQUEZ, OLGA VEGA, JOANNA VILLEGAS, SAKA WATKINS, EVELYN WHETSTONE, CONNIE WITCHER, LAVENDA WYNN, PATRICIA WYNN, DONNA YOUNG, MARIA ZAPATA, MILAGROS ACOSTA, ALEXANDER HERNANDEZ, MADELAINE ADDERLEY, BOBBY BARR, SANTO BONILLO, CARMEN CABON, CONSTANCE CARSTARPHEN, DANIKA DANIELS, PHENESIA DARBY, MILAGROS DIAZ, SANDRA GONZALEZ, HOWARD HALL, IRMA HERNANDEZ, TERRI JOHNSON, LORETTA LEE, MIRIAM LOPEZ, LUZ MOLINA, SALVADOR MORALES, ROSA MULLER, PHOEBE MUNOZ, TERESA MURRAY, ROBERT MUSE, NILDA ORTEGA, LISETTE PANETO, LINDA PERRY, LUZ RAMOS, TAMMY ROBINSON, AYDA RODRIGUEZ, BETSY TORO, JULIO VASQUEZ, ZULMA VASQUEZ, LATISHA WILLIAMS, SUSIE WILLIAMS, AWILDA ZAYAS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MELVIN R. PRIMAS, CITY OF CAMDEN, CITY OF CAMDEN PLANNING BOARD, CAMDEN CITY COUNCIL, CAMDEN REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY, ECONOMIC RECOVERY BOARD FOR CAMDEN, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND CHEROKEE CAMDEN, LLC, MICHAELS DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, RIVER HAYES RENEWAL ASSOCIATES I, L.P., RIVER HAYES RENEWAL ASSOCIATES II, L.P., INTERVENORS/DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. CAM-L-08135-04.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, J. A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued May 9, 2007

Before Judges Winkelstein, Fuentes and Baxter.

Plaintiffs, a homeowner's association and individual homeowners affected by the City of Camden's intended redevelopment of an area known as Cramer Hill, appeal from the order of the trial court dismissing the one remaining count in their complaint in lieu of prerogative writs. This action was originally brought to challenge the City's proposed redevelopment plan. After extended litigation, the court invalidated the redevelopment plan, and directed the City to undertake a new needs assessment before proposing a new plan.

Plaintiffs' remaining legal challenge seeks to invalidate an ordinance authorizing the City to acquire property on four sites within the Cramer Hill section of the City, by eminent domain, under the authority of section 325 (N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325) of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This ordinance was enacted after the redevelopment plan was invalidated. The City alleges that this new land acquisition plan will increase the number of affordable housing units.

The matter came before the Law Division by way of defendants' motion for summary judgment. After considering the documentary evidence presented, and hearing oral argument from counsel, the court dismissed plaintiffs' legal challenge to the ordinance. Plaintiffs now appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants because:

(1) defendants had not participated in the substantive certification process required under N.J.S.A. 52:27D-313, and were thus not authorized to use the power of eminent domain under N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325; (2) the City had not demonstrated how the ordinance's proposed land acquisition scheme related to meeting the City's fair share housing obligation under the FHA; (3) the proposed development will actually decrease the supply of affordable housing in the City, in direct contravention of the purpose and policies of the FHA; and (4) the City enacted the challenged ordinance in bad faith, in an effort to circumvent the procedural and substantive problems that led to the invalidation of the original redevelopment plan.

After reviewing the record, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we reject the arguments advanced by plaintiffs. We hold that under the express language of N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325, the City has the authority to acquire private property by eminent domain, without having to obtain the substantive certification from the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) provided for in N.J.S.A. 52:27D-313.

We are nevertheless compelled to remand this matter for the trial court to conduct a fact-finding hearing to determine if the ordinance passed under N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325 will assist the City in meeting its fair share housing obligation under the FHA. Stated differently, the trial court must determine whether the proposed land acquisition plan authorized by the ordinance actually increases the number of affordable housing units in the City.

In going about this task, the trial court should be guided by the overarching public policy supporting the City's authority to take private property by eminent domain under N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325: the exercise of the power of eminent domain granted to municipalities under section 325 is expressly predicated upon a finding that the proposed land acquisition is "necessary or useful for the construction or rehabilitation of low or moderate income housing." Ibid. Absent such a finding, the City lacks the legal authority to proceed under N.J.S.A. 52:27D-325.

I.

On February 24, 2005, acting under the authority provided to municipalities in section 325, the City enacted Ordinance MC-4032, authorizing the acquisition of seventy-two parcels of land by eminent domain. The expressed purpose for this acquisition was the "construction or rehabilitation of low and moderate income housing in the Cramer Hill section of the City of Camden." The Ordinance listed the parcels to be acquired as Sites E, F, L and M, identified further by various block and lot numbers on River and Hayes Avenues. The record before us does not include any information as to the types of housing to be erected on the lots listed in the ordinance.

One month later, the Camden Redevelopment Agency forwarded the Workable Relocation Assistance Plan (WRAP) to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. This relocation plan was limited to the residents of sites E and F.

For purposes of addressing the issues raised herein, we accept plaintiffs' description of the Cramer Hill community, as an enclave of stability in the midst of a City with a rapidly deteriorating affordable housing stock:

Cramer Hill is a neighborhood . . . located approximately one mile northeast of the downtown area of the City of Camden. Cramer Hill is cohesive and stable, having experienced no population loss between 1990 and 2000, according to Census Bureau reports.

Cramer Hill is approximately 1.8 miles long and approximately 0.8 miles wide, running from the Cooper River on the southwest, northeast along the Back Channel of the Delaware River, north to the boundary of the City of Camden and the Township of Pennsauken, and southeast to a rail yard. Cramer Hill encompasses over one hundred sixty-two (162) city blocks containing nearly four thousand (4000) properties.

The buildings are variously constructed of wood, brick and stone. The residential area contains modest, mostly single and semi-detached family homes. They are primarily of nineteenth century construction with many fine period structures which continue to be solid, comfortable urban dwellings. Many homes are well-maintained and have attractively landscaped yards and gardens. Cramer Hill is the only neighborhood in Camden City with primarily R1-A low-density zoning, the most restrictive type of zoning provided for in Camden's zoning code. The zoning designation requires large residential lots of 3,000 square feet, with 15 foot yard setbacks, structures no higher than two stories, and a maximum density of 14.5 homes per acre, giving the community an almost suburban character.

Cramer Hill contains one hundred twenty-two (122) storefront and other businesses. There is a thriving aggregation of family owned businesses primarily clustered along River Avenue, but also spread throughout the neighborhood. The majority of these business owners and operators are Latino and African-American. There are also a number of light industrial and some heavy industrial uses, including a demolition and salvage operation and a dredging operation, all primarily located along the ...


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