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Emerson Allows Condemnation Zone; Suit Threatened

Morristown Attorney Richard De Angelis threatens the Emerson Mayor and Council with a lawsuit. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Emerson resident Phylis Rooney, a senior citizen, spoke against designating a condemnation zone. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
A crowd packed borough hall in Emerson Tuesday night, when the Borough Council passed a resolution designating a condemnation zone downtown. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Emerson Planning Attorney Doug Doyle answers a question as Mayor Lou Lamatina looks on. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Dominick Scala, owner of the Cork and Keg in the Block 419 condemnation zone. He was reassured that, should his business be moved, he will get relocation assistance. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

EMERSON, N.J. — If Emerson needs to condemn buildings on 11 lots downtown to build anew, it now can.

But it also could face a lawsuit.

The Borough Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to redesignate the lots – all in Block 419 – a condemnation redevelopment zone.

Councilwoman Danielle DiPaola voted against the measure.

Councilman Richard Worthington was absent.

Borough Redevelopment Attorney Doug Doyle said no one actually wants to condemn any property.

"It is never in the interest of a developer to have the municipality acquire land through eminent domain," Doyle said.

"That just increases his costs for the project."

JMF Properties proposes a two-building, four-story, multi-use development along the tracks, plus a parking garage.

The project will partially fulfill the borough’s affordable housing requirements.

The area, now partially blighted, extends from Linwood Avenue north to Lincoln Boulevard on the west side of Kinderkamack Road. Its western border is the railroad tracks.

In passing the resolution Tuesday, the Emerson Mayor and Council adopted a recommendation made by the borough Land Use Board last month.

But the resolution did not pass quietly.

Business owners, landowners and private citizens filled the council chambers.

The vote was prefaced by a lot of public comment in which everyone who addressed the council opposed the redesignation.

Also, Attorney Richard De Angelis of Morristown, representing the owner of the restaurant formerly known as Ranchero Cantina, threatened to sue if the measure passed.

“I’m going to beg of you to reject this resolution outright,” De Angelis told Mayor Lou Lamatina and the council.

“If you don’t do that, I’m asking you to consider remanding it,” he added. “You absolutely have the power to send this back to the Land Use Board for further hearings.”

If the governing body passed the resolution, De Angelis said, he would file a lawsuit in Bergen County Superior Court to challenge it.

He said Emerson would be in for “long, torturous litigation.”

Joining the chorus of opposition was Phylis Rooney, a senior citizen.

“What I’m asking all of you to do is consider the lives of these people,” Rooney told the mayor and council, gesturing at the people gathered behind her.

“This is not affecting me,” she added. “But it will when I go to Shortrounds Deli and it’s not there anymore. Or Emerson Cleaners, and he’s not there. Or Dominick at Cork and Keg. These people became friends over the years.”

Property owners in Block 419 now have 45 days to challenge the decision creating the zone.

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