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  Jersey City tries to seize bar for Church footbal field
Jersey City tries to seize bar for Church footbal field

"This is one of the most egregious cases of eminent domain in the country," said Steve Anderson of the Institute for Justice in Washington.

The summer court case confirmed the use of eminent domain by government to seize private land and turn it over to others for private use. But lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, who are representing the owner, argue the redevelopment agency is violating the constitutional prohibition on favoring a religion.

"It's inappropriate for government to take land from one person and give it to another for their personal use," said Ed Barocas, the ACLU's legal director in New Jersey. "It's even more inappropriate to take it to benefit a particular religion."

St. Peter's Prep, a respected institution with powerful political ties, argues that after spending years and about $4 million assembling property for much-needed athletic fields, it is being held up unfairly by Tan(the owner). The school last year built a new field adjacent to the Golden Cicada, but the Rev. James Keenan, St. Peter's president, said it is 7 yards shy of regulation and must be lengthened for the varsity to play its home games there. In 2003, the school won approval to build its elaborate practice field but soon discovered that the scrap yard they purchased was far more polluted than expected. The price of the project ballooned from $2.5 million to $4 million, Keenan said. The school got help from the state Legislature, which, at the behest of state Sen. Bernard Kenny (D-Hudson), chipped in $250,000 for the cleanup. Kenny's sons both attended St. Peter's.

On paper, the legal argument is technically between the redevelopment agency, which is empowered by state law to seize property, and Tan. The city council in 2000 declared the area around Tan's bar "in need of redevelopment" and designated it for open space and recreation. A lawyer for the city confirmed that the agency has an agreement to sell Tan's property to St. Peter's at cost if it wins the case. "It's like the reincarnation of Thomas Paine," he joked, noting that eminent domain is a frequent subject of conversation among his regulars. "When the government starts ignoring property rights, we all have a serious problem."

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