Court rules for owners of land adjacent to proposed New Jersey port
A family-owned business has won a case before New Jersey’s Supreme Court to prevent its waterfront property on the Delaware River from being seized under eminent domain.
The 63-acre site is adjacent to a former BP tank farm in the Borough of Paulsboro, and has been mentioned for possible incorporation into a proposed marine terminal there.
While New Jersey’s constitution expressly authorizes municipalities to engage in redevelopment of “blighted areas” and take private property for a “public use,” the court found Paulsboro was applying the law too broadly.
Paulsboro was interpreting the law “to permit redevelopment of any property that is ‘stagnant or not fully productive’ yet potentially valuable for ‘contributing to and serving’ the general welfare,” the high court said.
“Under that approach, any property that is operated in a less than optimal manner is arguably ‘blighted.’ If such an all-encompassing definition of ‘blight’ were adopted, most property in the State would be eligible for redevelopment,” it added.
The Gallenthin family has owned the property since 1951 and it has historically been used for receiving dredge spoils. It consists mostly of undeveloped open space and is identified as protected wetlands by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. At Gallenthin’s request it was rezoned in 1998 by Paulsboro as a marine industrial business park.
Last year the South Jersey Port Corp. approved issuance of bonds that included $1.85 million for engineering and site planning for the new port in Paulsboro, which would be downriver from its existing facilities.
South Jersey Port Corp. said the Paulsboro port would be developed on a 190-acre site including a 130-acre former BP refinery. The SJPC has projected and approved total long-term investment up to $135 million to develop the port.
Some studies of the proposed Paulsboro terminal have proposed including portions of the Gallenthin’s tract in the project, though others said the property’s wetland status made that problematic.