Clark Council Authorizes Use of Eminent Domain in Central Avenue Widening Project

The westbound side of Central Avenue will be widened to accommodate an additional lane of traffic. Credits: Susan Roselli Bonnell

CLARK, NJ – At a meeting held on Sept. 15, the Clark Town Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing condemnation proceedings against the owners of certain properties along Central Avenue. The proceedings, if deemed necessary, will allow the Township to acquire portions of the properties to widen Central Avenue.

As part of the Clark Commons shopping center project, a westbound length of Central Avenue will be widened to create an additional lane of traffic.  The properties affected by the project are located at 162 Central Avenue, 152 Central Avenue, 142 Central Avenue and 136 Central Avenue. 

The lengths of property range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand feet of frontage, according to Township Attorney Joseph Triarsi.   The project will move the sidewalks back and, Triarsi said, is not expected to impair usage of the properties.

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The resolution also calls for the engagement of Appraisal Associates, Inc. to determine fair market value of the properties.

Triarsi explained that the next step in the process of acquiring the properties is a meeting between the township, the property owners and the appraisal company.  That meeting is currently scheduled for Sept. 23.

A written offer will be submitted to the property owners within 10 days of the meeting.  If a property owner does not accept the offer, the township will file a complaint of condemnation and post funds in the offer amount with the court.  “The property immediately becomes ours,” said Triarsi. “There is a process that has to be followed, but the process does not impair our ability to take the property right away.”

Ultimately, the case could be assigned to a condemnation panel that would hear testimony and make a recommendation to the court as to a settlement figure.

Resident Dario Valdivia, who is also a candidate for councilman in the second ward, questioned the source of the funds to acquire the properties.  Business Administrator John Laezza indicated the funds would be obtained through a previously approved bond issuance.

The township, in its settlement of an earlier lawsuit in connection to the Clark Commons project, was required to post $500,000 toward road improvements.  Laezza also indicated that the annual tax revenue from the Clark Commons property is projected to be approximately $1.2 million, off-setting the cost of the road widening.

When reached later for comment, Franklin Spirn, the owner of 152 Central Avenue, was not surprised that the town would “go the condemnation route” and believes that they have the right to do so.  “It’s really a question of fair compensation,” said Spirn. “I am getting an independent appraisal and discussing the matter with my financial advisors.”  Spirn said he had not been notified of a meeting with the town’s appraiser.

Spirn said his tenants have contacted him to express concerns about accessibility for their patrons and he disagreed with the suggestion that the changes would not impact access to the property.  “Of course it will,” he said.  “It’s a fact; it will make it much harder to get in and out of the driveway. It (the roadway) won't be that far from the building.”  

This is not the first time the township has utilized a condemnation proceeding, or eminent domain, to obtain sections of property for road projects.  Council President Brian Toal said the same procedure was followed in the 1970s when Central Avenue was last widened. 

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