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City of Asbury Park v. U.S. Appliance Recyclers Inc. of New Jersey

A-0648-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

CONDEMNATION; VALUATION — In a condemnation matter, it is within a court’s discretion to weigh both side’s submission of appraisal testimony and to accept or reject all or part of the testimony.

To implement a waterfront redevelopment plan, a municipality sought to condemn a property. On the property stood a steel skeleton that was once the frame for a parking garage. The structure had not been used for a number of years and was rotting away. A commissioner’s report released at a hearing said that due to economic conditions, redevelopment was not feasible at that time, but that the best use of the property would be hold it for future redevelopment once market conditions improved. An engineer retained by the municipality testified that the structure was rusting away and that it should be razed since there was no practical or economically feasible way to renovate it. The commissioner added that the cost of razing the structure would reduce the property’s value. The municipality disagreed with condemnation commissioners over the value of the property and the amount to be paid to the property owner. The commissioners’ estimate was $686,000 and the municipality’s was only $360,000. An expert witness for the property owner testified that the best use of the property was to rehabilitate the structure and develop it for condominium housing. A report by the engineer was admitted to the proceedings even though it was submitted five days past the final date of the discovery period. Over the objections of the property owner, the lower court admitted the engineer’s report. The lower court set $400,000 as compensation for the property.

On appeal, the property owner argued that the lower court’s admission of the engineer’s report was an abuse of discretion and that the $400,000 award was so shocking as to warrant a new trial. The Appellate Division disagreed, finding that while the property owner’s expert’s testimony differed from that of the municipality’s expert, it was within the lower court’s discretion to weigh both sides and accept or reject all or part of the testimony and that the lower court’s award did not so significantly go against the weight of the evidence as to constitute a miscarriage of justice. Based on its findings and conclusions, the Court affirmed the lower court’s $400,000 determination.

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