On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-2080-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and J. N. Harris.
This is an eminent domain case. Plaintiff City of Long Branch (Long Branch) appeals from a jury verdict that awarded just compensation for the condemnation of three properties of defendants Stephen Angelides, John Angelides, and Emmanuel Vlastakis in the aggregate amount of $2,025,000. We affirm.
In 2001, Long Branch authorized the acquisition of certain real property within its Beachfront North Sector of the Oceanfront-Broadway Redevelopment Area.*fn1 Among the parcels to be acquired were defendants' three properties that are involved in this case: 38, 44-46, and 52 Seaview Avenue.*fn2 Although defendants did not contest the authority of Long Branch to take their properties in this case, they vehemently challenged the amount of just compensation that was offered to them.
Plaintiff filed a verified complaint on May 4, 2006, seeking to confirm its authority to exercise the power of eminent domain and to determine the just compensation required to be paid for that privilege. After the appointment of condemnation commissioners and the completion of their work pursuant to the dictates of the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, N.J.S.A. 20:3-1 to -47, defendants remained aggrieved by the just compensation award. They subsequently filed a notice of appeal from the award of the commissioners and demanded a jury trial. That trial was held before Judge John R. Tassini over the course of several days. It yielded a final determination by the jury of just compensation in the aggregate amount of $2,025,000.
As noted, defendants' properties comprise a small part of Long Branch's redevelopment zone. The neighborhood that surrounds the properties is bounded by North Bath Avenue to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Ocean Boulevard on the west, and Joline Avenue to the north. The date of valuation for eminent domain purposes was stipulated as May 4, 2006. See N.J.S.A. 20:3-30.
During trial, both sides repeatedly described the character of the neighborhood to the jury. In his opening remarks, counsel for Long Branch portrayed the neighborhood as in economic decline, with many properties vacant and boarded up. He noted the paucity of construction permits in the vicinity as evidence of its undesirability. To the contrary, defendants' counsel's opening statement sought to depict the locale as well maintained and markedly dissimilar to the rundown portions of the redevelopment area. The attorneys clashed over the appropriate background information that should be conveyed to the jury. Ultimately, Judge Tassini ordered, "I don't want mention of [the] redeveloper. You can mention [the] redevelopment zone." Furthermore, the trial court held, "[I] [d]on't want mention of litigation challenging the redevelopment."
The parties presented appraisers, together with their expert opinions of fair market value, to the jury for its consideration. Long Branch's appraiser, Hugh A. McGuire, Jr., opined that the fair market values of the single-family homes at 38 and 52 Seaview Avenue, as of the date of valuation, were respectively $547,000 and $475,000. McGuire found that the two-family dwelling at 44-46 Seaview Avenue was worth $612,000 as of the same date. Arithmetically, the aggregate sum of the three properties' fair market value was $1,634,000.
Using the same date of valuation, defendants' appraiser, John Brody, opined that 38 Seaview Avenue was worth $875,000, 44-46 Seaview Avenue had a fair market value of $933,000, and 52 Seaview Avenue's fair market value was $810,000. Mathematically, these amounts added up to $2,618,000. The spread between Long Branch's and defendants' opinions was almost $1,000,000.
The jury returned a split verdict. In a pair of six-to-one votes, it determined just compensation for 38 Seaview Avenue to be $675,000 and just compensation for 44-46 Seaview Avenue to be $755,000. Unanimity was achieved regarding the just compensation of $595,000 for 52 Seaview Avenue. The final judgment reflected the ...