Business owners vow fight for property

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    BYRAM-Byram put on hold a decision that would look at the possibility of taking property from long established businesses to make room for the future growth of the municipality. The planning board delayed a decision this week to support a redevelopment study that may lead to the condemnation of local businesses in favor of the proposed Byram Village Center. The board is expected to vote on the study and make a recommendation to the township council once public hearing conclude on July 21. Township planners envision the land surrounding the intersection of Route 206 and Lackawanna Drive as home to the "Village Center," a proposed area for retail, offices, restaurants, and apartments including state-mandated affordable housing units. A township-commissioned report has recommended that the property where the Byram Car Wash is located n and others near it -- be "redeveloped" to serve as a "gateway" to the entire Village Center. Local business owners have vowed to fight to keep their land. "We want to do our best to keep our business," said Robert Paladino, who owns and operates the car wash with his brother, Glenn, and sister, Sheryl. "We're going to hang in there as long as we can." The study, prepared by Heyer, Gruel & Associates of New Brunswick, concludes the Village Center cannot be established without some key commercial parcels that face Route 206. Earlier this week, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court granted local governments wide latitude to condemn and knock down homes and businesses against the will of the owners to foster new private economic development. The court's decision in the New London. Conn., case dealt a blow to property rights advocates nationwide. Localities would now have broad discretion to support privately backed projects as long as they include a "public purpose." Saul Wolfe, a Livingston attorney who represents the Paladino family, said New Jersey's Constitution is more restrictive than Connecticut's, and allows towns to seize only "blighted" property for redevelopment. "It's clear the Paladino property isn't blighted," said Wolfe, noting the well-kept building and landscaped property along the ¼ mile stretch of roadway. "There's absolutely no reason the town needs to take my client's property. We're not against this planned Village. The town just does not need to take this property to build it." The study recommends other areas along Route 206 for redevelopment including STS Tire and Auto Center, Exxon, HRS Drilling Service, Lockwood Cemetery, a home owned by Ruth and Vincent Hartman, and Western World, Inc., a 50-acre undeveloped stretch of land owned by the Stabile family. Paladino bought his property some 20 years ago with an eye toward the future. At the time, the nearby Shop-Rite Plaza was a vacant lot full of rocks near the quarry and Route 206 featured just a splattering of mom-and-pop businesses. "I'm irritated," said Paladino, whose business now sits on 224 feet of prime real estate off Route 206. "We have our entire life wrapped up in this car wash. They want the regional frontage for the town center. That's what I bought the property for. Now the town wants to take my property." Township officials claim all discussion concerning property frontage along Route 206 is premature. "We're still just listening," said George Shivas Jr., planning board chairman. "But, if I owned a business, I would fight to keep it at every stop, too. We want to build the town center the right way. We're looking at all the possibilities and the redevelopment study is one of them. But the last thing we want to do is take someone's land." Township manager Gregg Poff said the planning board is reviewing the study and will make recommendations to the township council after hearing concerns from local residents and business owners. The council will then formulate a plan around "smart growth" ordinances before shopping the package for bid to developers. Paladino said he is reluctant to invest in his business and make plans for the future. "There's a lot of things I'd like to know that I don't know," said Paladino. "We can't get definitive answers out of the town."