Future of lower Broadway evolves as Long Branch shifts focus

Council to redesignate corridor for rehabilitation, barring use of eminent domain

Staff Writer

Properties in the Broadway Corridor redevelopment zone would no longer be subject to eminent domain if the Long Branch City Council adopts new zoning that will make the area from Liberty Street to the railroad tracks an “area in need of rehabilitation.” During the June 26 workshop meeting, the council discussed redesignating the area, which currently is a redevelopment zone.

“The crucial difference is the rehabilitation [zone] does not come with the power of eminent domain and does not grant the ability to give long-term tax abatements,” explained Robert Beckelman, redevelopment attorney for the city. “It does give the power to adopt redevelopment plans and grant short-term tax abatements.” Under the proposal, the area west of Liberty Street would be classified as a rehabilitation zone, while the area east of Liberty Street to Long Branch Avenue, known as the BroadwayArts Center (BAC), would remain a redevelopment zone.

BAC includes some 190 properties and 47 vacant parcels located along 72 acres of the Broadway Corridor, which are the first 9 acres of the entire Broadway redevelopment zone. The corridor extends two blocks from Second Avenue to Memorial Avenue and from Union Avenue to the north and Belmont Avenue to the south.

With the entire area designated an area in need of redevelopment, the city exercised the right of eminent domain to acquire properties.

Three property owners in the zone sued the city and in a 2010 ruling, the Appellate Division of state Superior Court found that the city’s 1996 designation of the zone as blighted did not meet the heightened standards for blight set in the recent court rulings .

Beckelman said a portion of the Broadway Corridor would remain a redevelopment zone and meet the heightened standards, while the rehabilitation zone designation for the remainder of the area would satisfy the recent rulings.

“As a result of that study, a portion of the Broadway Corridor was shown to have the heightened standard the court had found for the redevelopment area,” he said.

“The [Broadway Arts Center] continues to qualify as a redevelopment area, and the remainder of the Broadway Corridor area, as a result of that case, is not,” he added.

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider said in a June 28 interview that the timing for the city to reconsider the Broadway Corridor as a redevelopment zone “is right” and that with an improving housing market, he is optimistic that the area will eventually be developed.

He said internal and external factors ultimately derailed the redevelopment project. “We started to get interest on Broadway and we were getting closer and closer,” he said. “The eminent domain controversy hit, and that slowed things down because we knew that had to be resolved.

“The conditions have changed, the economy has changed,” he added.

Schneider observed that many city residents likely don’t even know a time when Broadway was a thriving downtown.

“You have to be my age and older to remember lower Broadway as a functioning downtown,” Schneider said. “It has changed dramatically; by the late 1960s the business communities started to go out to the highway [Route 35] and the housing stock was in decline.

“If we are successful in getting lower Broadway rebuilt, it will have a huge impact on the town,” he added. “It will be emotional, it will be sentimental, if it becomes a destination again and gets tied to the oceanfront.”

While the City Council was prepared to take action during the meeting, the measure was incorrectly noticed in public advertisements of the meeting agenda, and Beckelman recommended the council hold off on a vote.

“What I propose to do is at the next meeting [July 10] put out a resolution to refer the ordinance to the Planning Board for a recommendation.”

If the Planning Board were to recommend the designation, the council would then introduce and adopt the ordinance at two subsequent meetings.

James Aaron, city attorney, said the city’s legal professionals have reviewed the proposal and recommend the change is the best course of action.

“Everyone has been in concurrence from a legal perspective that this gives the city the benefit to keep the redevelopment plan and design guidelines in place,” he said. “It also does exactly what the Appellate Division told us to do and relies on existing statutes and designations so the city does not have to go through an additional expense.”

Aaron estimated it would cost the city an additional $150,000 to complete another redevelopment study for the zone.

He also said if the designation is challenged, it must be made within 45 days of the council passing the ordinance.

The lower Broadway area has been the subject of frequent criticism by city residents because of the dilapidated state of much of the area.

Councilwoman Joy Bastelli, who led a cleanup of the downtown area along Broadway, said the designation change would be a positive for property owners in the zone.

“This is actually good news for renewing our downtown, because it takes away the threat of eminent domain and hopefully encourages businesses and property owners to improve their property,” she said.

Schneider said the city’s redevelopment plans and controversial use of eminent domain have changed the landscape of redevelopment.

“Nobody is going to do what Long Branch did again, whether you like what we did or not,” he said. “When we started this, everyone said this needs to be done, and nobody complained.

“Nobody is ever going to try that again,” he added, “I can’t imagine it will ever be on the table.”

Redevelopment of the corridor has been in a holding pattern recently as foreclosure proceedings continued for Broadway Arts Center LLC, developer for BAC.

BAC failed because of the financial problems of its principals, who include members of the Katz, Siperstein and Perreira families. The city is attempting to attract a new developer to take over the BAC redevelopment once the courts rule on foreclosure proceedings.

Earlier this year, the city bonded $1.5 million to acquire six properties within the BAC zone because the developers did not have the funding to pay for the properties that were previously taken by eminent domain.

The Broadway Corridor is one of six zones in the city slated for redevelopment. The developers of another zone, the Hotel Campus, also had financial problems, and new owners assumed control earlier this year. The other redevelopment zones are Beachfront North, Beachfront South, Pier Village and Broadway Gateway.