On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-2837-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Harris.
This is an eminent domain action in which the City of Brigantine (the City) condemned a permanent easement over a portion of defendants' vacant beach-front property, which is designated as Lot 1.03 in Block 101 on the City's tax map (the property). The easement allows the City to access a portion of the property for beach maintenance and beach replenishment projects. Defendants appeal from the trial court's refusal to adjourn a jury trial and a judgment entered on March 19, 2009, in favor of defendants in the amount of $1000. Defendants also contend the City's partial taking leaves the remainder of their property with little or no economic value and therefore the City must condemn the whole property. We are not persuaded by defendants' arguments and affirm.
After the City filed a verified complaint and declaration of taking on April 29, 2005, the trial court upheld the City's authority to condemn the easement. Defendants appealed and we affirmed the City's exercise of eminent domain and the partial taking in a prior unpublished opinion, City of Brigantine v. Sentore, No. A-6171-04T3 (App. Div. Jul. 3, 2007). In that decision, we described the proposed beach replenishment project and defendants' property as follows:
The City estimates that for no longer than a four-week period of time, there will be pipes and equipment in the easement area on [defendants' property] in order to facilitate the movement and placement of sand. The [p]roject will involve the pumping of sand from the inlet between Brigantine and the next island north of Brigantine onto the [p]roperty, as well as the 35 block-long stretch of beach.
[Defendants' property] is approximately 100 feet wide running from north to south.
It extends approximately 2,500 feet from west to east into the Atlantic Ocean. The western border of the [p]roperty consists of a public promenade which is known as the Brigantine Seawall. The easement area which the City seeks to acquire by condemnation, consists of 100 feet in width at the boundary of the seawall and extends 750 feet eastwardly in the direction of, and into the Atlantic Ocean. [City of Brigantine v. Sentore, supra, (slip op. at 3).]
Defendants acquired the property in fee simple on August 31, 2000, for $10,000, and they maintain fee simple ownership of the property despite the City's acquisition of the easement. They have never sought approvals to develop the property. There is no residential or commercial use on or associated with the property and it is subject to federal, state, and municipal restrictions, which were in effect prior to defendants' purchase of the property.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-12(b), condemnation commissioners were appointed to determine the compensation to be paid by the City to defendants for the taking of the easement interest. The commissioners' hearing was held on November 24, 2008, and they rendered a report and award on December 9, 2008.*fn1 Defendants appealed the commissioners' decision, and on December 17, 2008, defendants were notified that the matter was scheduled for a jury trial on March 9, 2009.
On February 4, 2009, defendants filed a motion to compel the City to condemn the entire property pursuant to N.J.S.A. 20:3-37. In a letter to the court dated February 17, 2009, defendants' attorney requested an adjournment because "the initial trial date of March 9, 2009 will not provide adequate opportunity for the obtaining of expert reports necessary for a trial of this case." However, during the motion hearing on February 20, 2009, the court denied defendants' request, stating:
This case was sent to me by the assignment judge with the instruction to try it on that date, and that's when I'm going to try it.
I have reconstructed my entire trial schedule for the month of March around this trial, and I did so in December when I was told that it ...