On Feb. 1, the all-Republican borough council of Hopatcong voted unanimously to designate a nearly 33-acre parcel of land within the Borough as “an area in need of redevelopment.”
The designation allows the borough to seek federal grants for redevelopment and to offer incentives such as tax abatements to businesses and developers. It also allows the borough to use eminent domain to acquire privately owned property for transfer to private developers.
Eminent domain is a legal protocol that was designed to allow government to purchase private land for public purposes, which, until the Reagan-Bush era, meant roads, schools, hospitals and the like. Now, however, governments rationalize that the taxes private owners will ostensibly pay (mostly pretend, as these packages usually come with “incentive” tax breaks) comprise a pubic purpose.
It’s an argument offered by the Hopatcong government, which also insists that the area, which includes homes, small businesses and the Lake Hopatcong Community Center, has been blighted for decades and needs an infusion of big development. The Borough’s report declared the center is “underutilized” and apparently blighting the area by having “obsolescent characteristics"
"I'd like to understand the guidelines that were used in this study to determine how many Jews it takes to make a temple properly utilized," Lisa Kurzman said at a Hopatcong public meeting. "Is 100 Jews the right number? Is it 10? Or is it one? I'm sorry there aren't more Jews in the world to worship at our temple, but this is what we have."
Hopatcong officials have stated that they don’t intend to use eminent domain to acquire private property, but they have refused to take it off the table. Property owners in July received notices that “... a Redevelopment Area Designation shall authorize the Borough of Hopatcong to exercise the power of Eminent Domain to acquire property within the delineated area.” And the governing body has not officially renounced that option, despite verbal assurances that people should just trust them and not worry.
Area property owners, however, remain worried.
Freeholder Sylvia Petrillo, a Republican like all current members of Hopatcong’s governing body, was mayor of the Borough during this process.