BLOOMFIELD, NJ -- An appellate court panel of three judges has overturned a previous decision from 2016 on the value of a property containing the historic Lackawanna Train Station that the Township of Bloomfield acquired through eminent domain proceedings. This new ruling could potentially save Bloomfield taxpayers millions of dollars and allow the Township to renovate the train station.
“The Township of Bloomfield adopted a forward-thinking redevelopment plan that has borne fruit in recent years, reinvigorating Bloomfield’s Downtown, and elevating all of our property values. The former owner of Lackawanna Place never objected to the Township’s claim over the land, but has insisted that this property is worth millions of dollars and is appropriate for commercial use, despite experts testifying that the property is ill-suited for any of those purposes,” said Mayor Michael Venezia.
The property, which includes a portion of the newly renovated Lackawanna Train Station, was acquired by the Township in 2012 through eminent domain for purposes of renovating the property to complement the township’s downtown redevelopment push. What has been the subject of debate for six years has been the appropriate price the Township should pay the former owner for the small, uneven, and ill-maintained property.
Expert property assessors ruled in May 2012 that renovation of the existing train station on the property constituted the highest and best use of the property, and valued the estate at $440,000, an amount the Township immediately offered to the former owner. After the owner rejected that decision, a panel of court-appointed condemnation commissioners determined the property’s value at $506,433, a number the former owner also rejected, on the assumption that the 3,617 square foot train station, situated on 0.62 acres of land would be a suitable space for a 34-unit development with almost 13,000 square feet of commercial space, and asked for the Township to pay $3,207,000.
At a 2016 trial, the judge precluded Bloomfield Township’s expert witness from presenting evidence that the seven-figure assessment was impractical, and a jury determined that the Township should pay the former owner $2,900,000. Yesterday’s ruling confirmed that the 2016 trial court judge erred by precluding the expert witness from testifying.
“This matter has dragged on for years because the corporation that owned this space has deep pockets and knows that prolonged trial deliberation hurts Bloomfield taxpayers, but we won’t arbitrarily overpay by millions of dollars for a property that has repeated been assessed at a fraction of their price,” said Mayor Venezia. “We hope after this ruling, the former owner will be willing to come to a reasonable settlement with the Township.”
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