An outrageous eminent domain case
A July 17, 2005, article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that 761st veteran Johnnie Stevens is involved in a controversy relating to planned condemnation of the home where he and his wife have lived for nearly a decade so that the land can be used for a luxury townhouse development. "Given less than two years to live because of lung cancer, Stevens hoped that he would not be pushed out by the borough's ambitious efforts to redevelop the run-down neighborhood." The controversy has recently become part of the political landscape in New Jersey, as politicians are using the situation to debate the legal doctrine of eminent domain that allows governments to take land by condemnation for use in development projects. In 1999 the area was designated a redevelopment zone and about two years ago a developer was chosen from several applicants and signed an agreement to build 400 luxury townhouses and condominiums, luxury apartments and retail and commercial space lining a widened avenue bordered by shade trees. The land owned by Stevens has been earmarked for use as an entrance to the new townhouse community. In the fall of 2004, Stevens received a letter from the developer offering to buy his property. "He turned it down, hired an attorney and is gearing up to fight the city's effort to take his property through eminent domain. 'This eminent domain is one of the most intimidating things you know of,' said Stevens, who breathes with the help of an oxygen machine." The 84-year-old Stevens is a World War II veteran awarded the Bronze Star as a member of the 761st Tank Battalion. "After what I've given to this country. I think I've earned my little piece of land. I just want to have my little garden and sit in my own back yard," Stevens said.