$500,000 Condemnation Verdict

New Jersey Law Journal, July 28, 2003

City of Long Branch v. Dorothy and Fred Strahlendorf: A Monmouth County jury awarded $500,000 to the owners of a blighted Long Branch oceanfront tract slated for redevelopment.

Long Branch condemned the property last summer, six years after declaring all its oceanfront properties blighted. The city said the .15-acre tract, which includes a two-story, 1,400-foot, single-family residence, was worth $185,000.

Fred and Dorothy Strahlendorf, the owners, valued it at $500,000, based on prices for oceanfront homes in Sea Bright and Belmar and on improvements to the Long Branch beach by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1997-98. The Strahlendorfs’ attorney, William Ward, of Carlin, Ward, Ash & Heiart LLC in Florham Park, argued that Long Branch home prices were driven down by the blight designation, zoning restrictions and failure to enforce building codes.

The attorney for the city, Paul Fernicola, of Bowe & Fernicola in Red Bank, argued that the property was not comparable to oceanfront plots in other towns and based his appraisal on recent sales of Long Branch tracts between three blocks and a quarter-mile from the ocean.

A condemnation commission chaired by Bayonne solo practitioner William Feinberg awarded $268,000. Both sides appealed.

During deliberations, the jurors asked Superior Court Judge Ronald Reisner if they could award more than $500,000.

Fernicola plans to appeal, saying the size of the jury’s verdict shows it was an improper attempt to punish the city for Ward’s claim that the city drove down property values. “When you consider that all the other Long Branch verdicts awarded far less, this was out of line with fair market value,” Fernicola says.

But Ward says the verdict “may cause the town to reconsider its hard line stance and finally come closer to the property owners’ positions.”

– By Nathan Tobey

JULY 28, 2003

This article is reprinted with permission from the JULY 28, 2003 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. ©2003 NLP IP Company. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.