BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A Newark Superior Court jury verdict determined Wednesday, Dec 19, that the township must pay $1.6 million for a piece of land it had acquired through eminent domain. The town had argued that an appraisal it had commissioned said the land was worth $440,000, a figure it thought was a fair price.
This was the second trial that attempted to fix a price for the .62-acre of sloping land abutting the NJT train station along Lackawanna Place. The first trial set the price at $2.9 million, but that verdict was successfully appealed by the township because it argued that one of its key witnesses had not been permitted to testify.
The land had originally been appraised at $3.2 million by its owner, Bloomfield Daval Corp. The principal for the corporation is Howard Haberman. Haberman was paid $440,000, in June 2012, when the property was condemned and the township took title.
In an Dec. 29 email, Anthony Della Pelle, the attorney representing BDC, said, “While my client is somewhat disappointed that this verdict is lower than the prior verdict, the recent verdict still represents nearly four times the amount of money offered by the township for this property.”
Della Pelle said the $1.6 million award recognized the unreasonableness of the position of the township that said the property had little value.
Haberman had envisioned a development on the land containing 34 residential apartments, 12,500 square-feet of retail space and no on-site parking. He had the land appraised based on this proposal. The township had envisioned a more modest development centered on the rehabilitation of an historic pedestrian tunnel connecting Lackawanna Place to New York-bound trains. In both trials, testimony either supported or refuted the feasibility of Haberman’s proposed project.
One objection the township used to justify its $440,000 appraisal was the lack of on-site parking for the project. Della Pelle’s email addressed this objection. The township redevelopment plan for the downtown area had said parking would be available on a deck to be constructed across Lackawanna Place.
“The property had significant development potential,” Della Pelle said, “because of the actual zoning for the property that was put into place by the township itself before the township decided to take the property by eminent domain.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Jan. 2, Kevin McManimon, the attorney representing the township, said he would have much preferred a jury verdict of less than $1.6 million, but that figure was “not out of line.”
McManimon said he thought the key witness permitted to testify in the second trial, real estate appraiser Andrew Janiw, “was a powerful witness” and his testimony helped to significantly reduce the price of the property awarded by the first jury. He did not know if the township would appeal the decision.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk with anyone in town,” he said, citing the recentness of the decision and the holidays.
He also did not know how much interest Bloomfield Daval Corp. would receive considering the difference between what it has already been paid and what the jury says it should be paid.
The township took ownership of the property on June 26, 2012. From that date, it would be responsible for paying BDC interest, at an annual rate of approximately 2.25, on a sum equal to the final price for the land minus the $440,000 it has already received.
“I haven’t seen the number yet,” McManimon said. “That will get into the judgement. We’ll know in a few days.’
Della Pelle would not comment on the testimony of Janiw, but when informed that McManimon considered him a powerful witness whose testimony contributed to the decrease in the jury award, Della Pelle said that because jury deliberations are confidential in New Jersey, parties have no way of knowing what information did or did not factor into a jury’s decision.
“It would be therefore speculative to conclude that any specific information did or did not contribute to the jury’s decision,” he said.
Della Pelle said his client had not yet determined if they will appeal the verdict.
“Nor do we yet know if the township will appeal again,” he said. “The time to appeal is 45 days from entry of judgment.”