City could have avoided fight with a better offer

Coda

GREG BEAN

Ihave never met the Rev. Kevin Brown, the guy the city of Long Branch is trying to evict from his apartment and his church so that a group of private developers can tear the building down to make way for the Broadway Arts Center redevelopment.

The developers, local businessmen and members of the Katz and Siperstein families, want to tear down several buildings on that stretch of Broadway and build a mixed-use arts and entertainment project.

On balance, I think this project, which requires the condemnation of private property, is probably a better deal for the citizens of Long Branch than the beachfront redevelopment projects, which called for a number of nice private houses to be taken by eminent domain to make way for highpriced condominiums.

Those projects are, and always have been, abominations and an affront to private property owners across the state. They turned Long Branch into the national poster child for eminent domain abuse, and the city may yet lose one of its biggest eminent domain cases in the courts.

The Broadway Arts Center project is more appealing, and I can imagine that, once finished, it could be a source of pride and entertainment, not only for the residents of Long Branch, but for the entire region.

Still, it appears that if there is any way under heaven to make the city fathers in that community look less like Dudley Do- Right and more like Snidely Whiplash, they’ll go out of their way to find it.

Brown has been living in the apartment at 162 Broadway — the city says illegally — for over 10 years. According to our newspaper the Atlanticville, he has been battling nearly all that time in an ill-fated attempt to save the building in which he lives from condemnation and establish a place of worship, the Lighthouse Mission, at the location. The building is currently owned by the Lighthouse Mission.

City Attorney James Aaron says that although the matter has been in one stage of litigation or another for about a decade, the city allowed Brown to continue residing there so it wouldn’t add “fuel to the fire,” whatever that means.

Recently, however, matters came to a head and state Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson (who just had one of his eminent domain decisions regarding Long Branch redevelopment overturned by a state appeals court) said the city had the right to evict Brown. And although he has no place to go, and plans to appeal the decision, Brown told the Atlanticville that as a result of Lawson’s ruling, he planned to leave his apartment this month.

No matter how you feel about Brown or his mission to establish a house of worship on Broadway, no matter how you feel about him living in the place without a certificate of occupancy, you’ve got to feel some sympathy for a guy who gets booted out of his home so a private developer can build something more profitable.

And you have to wonder whether matters would have even come to this point if the city hadn’t tried to low-ball Brown with its offers of financial assistance for his relocation. Recently, Aaron said that Brown can get “up to $4,500” in relocation assistance from the city, but he has to file for it.

Big darned deal. I wonder if Aaron has tried to find a new apartment, pay his first and last month’s rent, a damage deposit and pay moving expenses in New Jersey on a measly $4,500 recently.

Somehow, I doubt it. If the city had wanted to do it right, it would have made Brown, and the other property owners in the BAC, a decent offer to begin with instead of trying to cheap it out. Had they done that, they could probably have doubled or tripled their initial offer and the result would have been a happier Brown, other happier property owners and happier taxpayers, who just saved a bundle in legal expenses.

But if there’s anything the city fathers in Long Branch cannot be accused of, it’s inconsistency. Their tight-fisted, penny-wisepound foolish approach to homeowners and property owners in the beachfront area and the downtown redevelopment area has almost guaranteed that everyone is so angry at them, they’ll fight the condemnations in court to their last breaths.

If there’s ever a final accounting in this saga, I hope taxpayers in Long Branch finally learn how much the legal expenses in these cases have cost them versus how much it would have cost them had the city done the right thing to begin with. • • • One thing being away from the office in the daytime has given me is the opportunity to see a side of New Jersey, and its people, I’d never seen before.

This morning, for example, a friend and I were having breakfast at a good restaurant. My back was to the door, so I couldn’t see who was coming in, but at one point, his eyes got wide as he saw someone waiting to be seated.

“There are no words to describe this,” he said. When the person walked past us and I got a glimpse from the rear, I saw why he was astounded. The person looked to be well into middle age, maybe 50 pounds overweight and wearing a truly outlandish costume. From the rear, it looked like a woman in long, blond pigtails with ribbons, a thigh-high pink flowered dress with many petticoats, and red Mary Janes with ankle-high white lacy socks.

When she turned around, I saw she was wearing red cat-eye glasses from the 1950s and carrying an all-day lollipop. I also saw that “she” was a he, a fact given away by the two-day stubble.

I’m a live-and-let-live sort of fellow, but I defy you to see a person like that in a public place and not stare to the point of rudeness. It just ain’t possible.

Recently, I read a weird report from Reuters in which Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission, said that he believed space aliens have been visiting our planet for over 60 years, and that governments have been covering the visits up because they don’t want to alarm people.

When the UFO conspiracy freaks talk about alien visitations, I don’t pay much attention. But when a guy who walked on the moon for over nine hours says alien visits are commonplace, I sit up and take notice.

Now that I think on it, I’m pretty sure I saw one of those aliens at breakfast this morning. I wonder if I should report my experience to NASA.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.