Residents seek info on future of Route 33

Possible use of condemnation
is a concern for some people

Staff Writer

Residents seek
info on future
of Route 33
Possible use of condemnation
is a concern for some people
Staff Writer

Eminent domain will not be used to redevelop the Route 33 corridor in Howell, Republican Township Councilman Joseph DiBella promises.

"I’ll be damned if we’re going to do that," said DiBella, who is running for a four-year term as mayor in November.

As a means of reassurance to the Route 33 residents who came to Tuesday night’s Howell Township Council workshop meeting for just that purpose, DiBella suggested that the council pass a resolution stating that eminent domain (the condemnation of land as a means of acquisition) would not be used to redevelop Route 33.

However, that proposal was met with resistance from Republican councilmen Peter Tobasco and Juan Malave.

Republican Deputy Mayor Cynthia Schomaker was absent from the meeting.

Although Tobasco attempted to reassure the residents that "a redevelopment plan is not a condemnation plan," he declined to go along with DiBella’s suggestion of a written promise.

"We don’t want to completely eradicate one of our powers," he said.

At a meeting in February when Township Planner Michael Vena was commissioned by the council to proceed with a Route 33 redevelopment study, resident Barbara Dixel addressed the redevelopment of Route 33 as it related to eminent domain. Dixel told the council that eminent domain is "never right and should not be used to take land for development under any circumstances."

She has since thrown her hat into the political ring and is now the Democratic candidate for council, running against Schomaker.

Responding to Dixel at that February meeting, Malave said officials would only use eminent domain as a "last resort."

"Sometimes, it’s the only way," he said.

On Tuesday, when Dixel reminded Malave of his previous statements about eminent domain and asked him to comment further, he accused her of "campaigning" and an angry exchange erupted between the two.

DiBella said the redevelopment effort and any property acquisitions would be aimed at dilapidated, run-down buildings or properties along the Route 33 corridor.

DiBella said businesses that are open and operating have nothing to worry about. He said officials would turn their attention to obvious problems, situations where absentee landlords have let buildings and grounds fall into disrepair. At that, point murmurs of affirmation could be heard from the people in the audience.

Albert Cestaro Jr. is one of the hundreds of people whose homes and/or businesses on Route 33 fall under the scope of the redevelopment effort. In his case, it’s both. He lives on Howell Road less than a half-mile south of Route 33 in a home that dates back to 1863 and he owns an auto body business on Route 33.

Cestaro, a life-long resident of western Monmouth County who grew up in Manalapan, said he always planned to live out his life here and never considered relocating.

"The prices of properties are through the roof in Monmouth County and I didn’t have any intentions of selling to anyone and going anywhere," he said.

Cestaro, who has seen excerpts of the redevelopment study, takes is­sue with some of what he has read. He said he takes exception to the term "attractive nuisance" being used to describe one landmark business operating in the area. He said there were other "biased" de­scriptions of many other properties that will be affected by any rede­velopment effort on Route 33.

However, not everyone’s gut re­action was to oppose the proposal.

Michael Kirby, 47, lives on Route 33 in the house he grew up in and refers to as the "family home."

"It could be good, it could be bad," Kirby said of the proposed redevelopment of Route 33.

He said he needs to hear the council’s proposal outlined at a public meeting before he makes any decision about the proposal. He said he is keeping an open mind to hear what kind of buyout would be offered to residents.

Frank and Tamera Valentino have the same attitude. Their hub­cap display on Route 33 is a Howell landmark for many peo­ple.

Speaking with a reporter before Tuesday’s council meeting, Tamera Valentino said she and her hus­band want to hear the council’s plan for Route 33 and the property owners before passing judgment on the proposal.

As delineated in the redevelop­ment study, the properties Howell has earmarked for commercial de­velopment run along the Route 33 corridor from Howell’s border with Freehold Township, all the way past the Angle In mobile home park to the Wall Township border at the intersection of Route 33 and Route 34.

Under state statute, the redevel­opment authority (the council) has the power of eminent domain (condemnation) to complete the highway’s commercial redevelop­ment.

The redevelopment proposal authored by Vena’s firm states it "recommends the Planning Board find and recommend to the govern­ing body that ALL (the word is capitalized in the study) of the lands within the study area, in­cluding those which do not con­form with the statutory criteria, which may be in acceptable condi­tion and which host uses are per­mitted in the study area, are neces­sary for the effective development of the area, with or without change in condition."

There are eight separate criteria outlined in the study proposal.

According to the study, "crucial to applying the aforementioned is the understanding that any one of the eight criteria are sufficient for a municipality to make a determi­nation that an area is in need of redevelopment," and therefore sub­ject to condemnation."

Some of the stated criteria in the proposal for a parcel eligible for redevelopment include an area where "the generality of buildings are substandard, unsafe, unsani­tary, dilapidated or obsolescent, or possess any of such characteristics, or are so lacking in light, air or space as to be conductive to un­wholesome living or working con­ditions."

DiBella said the formal incep­tion of a redevelopment authority will have several benefits, among them the ability to make Howell eligible for grants.

"There are very few places left in town to attract good ratables," he said.

DiBella praised Mayor Timothy J. Konopka’s successful effort to bring commercial development to Route 9, noting, "We’ve probably tapped out Route 9, but we still need non-retail, non-heavy duty commercial development. We have to make Route 33 attractive to the kind of big business we need there."

He said several New Jersey mu­nicipalities have pursued redevel­opment plans without using emi­nent domain.

"A whole lot of things can hap­pen with redevelopment. What we’re trying to do is improve the area as best we can and improve everyone’s property value," DiBella said.