RARITAN, NJ - Raritan resident John Roglieri was planning to retire to his 3rd Street property — but now with a concern about eminent domain potentially stripping him of that property, his plans may be for naught.
Raritan Borough is currently considering a proposed apartment complex at 2nd Avenue and 3rd Street, and the planning board is investigating whether the property can be considered land in need of redevelopment. The property is block 81 on the tax map, and includes Roglieri’s property.
At a recent council meeting, Roglieri expressed his disappointment that he may lose his property due to eminent domain if the area is termed in need of redevelopment.
“I have a piece of paper that says you can legally take my property,” he said. “It is really stretching the purpose of eminent domain by taking my property for the benefit of the township.”
Eminent domain is defined as the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use in exchange for some compensation.
“Everyone seems to be making money on this property with the exception of those who don’t want to move,” Roglieri said. “We never intended to sell it, we were going to keep it for the long term."
The proposal for the property is for a four-floor apartment building on 3.5 acres. The plan is for 45 percent two-bedroom apartments, 50 percent one-bedroom apartments and 5 percent studio apartments.
Rent is being projected at $2,300 for two bedrooms, $2,000 for one bedroom and $1,650 for a studio.
At this point, no plan has been approved or finalized. The planning board has recently hired a company to do a study to determine if the land is in need of redevelopment before moving forward with any proposals for development on the land.
This first step in the redevelopment process is expected to take several months, and, procedurally, is followed by approvals on the part of the planning board and borough council that it is need of redevelopment, as well as on the proposal for the land.
Recently, the Institute for Justice issued a letter to the mayor and council, asking them to abandon the efforts to declare block 81 in need of redevelopment and subject to eminent domain for the proposed development.
According to the letter, the Institute for Justice is a civil liberties law firm that is dedicated to stopping the abuse of eminent domain across the country.
Eminent domain, the letter said, is for public use, and should not be used for private development.
“It is our understanding that all of the property on block 81 has been voluntarily acquired or is in negotiations except for 8 Third Street, owned by John Roglieri,” the letter read. “Mr. Roglieri’s property is not blighted and it is not for sale.”
“But it is not Mr. Roglieri’s intention to shut down the JMF Properties development,” the letter continued. “Indeed, Mr. Roglieri simply wants to retire in the house he has worked so hard to own and has every right to keep. Instead, the developer should build his apartment complex around Mr. Roglieri, on property they were able to obtain voluntarily.”
The letter continued that the borough should abandon efforts to declare the spot in need of redevelopment, and “disavow the use of eminent domain” for the project.
“If you approve this designation and start the redevelopment process, you are sending a message to property owners across Raritan that their homes and businesses are not safe,” the letter said.
In a letter response to the Institute for Justice, Raritan Mayor Chuck McMullin said that all owner-occupied homes in block 81 have entered into a contract with the developer.
“Please be aware that Mr. Roglieri has never lived in the house you refer to in your letter,” he said. “Additionally, that house was single family/owner occupied until the Roglieris purchased the house and converted it to a two-family. Both units are rental and not occupied by the owners.”
As of Feb. 9, McMullin said, there were three landlords with whom the developer had not yet reached an agreement.
As for the property itself, McMullin wrote, the railroad is at the northern property boundary, with First Avenue at the western side and Third Street at the southern boundary.
“The property is about 60 percent non-residental and the developer indicated environmental remediation is needed due to impact of historical and current land uses,” he said.
In addition, McMullin wrote, the project is still in its early stages, and nothing will be done until the redevelopment professionals make a report of their findings as to whether the property qualifies as an area in need of redevelopment.
“As you are keenly aware, our country seeks a balance between the rights of the individual with the rights of the general good,” he wrote. “I assure you this is foremost in my mind as this journey continues. Getting correct the right balance is a fundamental obligation of an elected official.”
But Roglieri said he feels his property should not be taken away from him even if the land is in need of redevelopment.
“I am very disappointed that the council went ahead and condemned my property,” he said. “No matter how you look at it, the long and short is that is exactly what's going to happen.”