In fine, an objective scrutiny of the collective testimony of the elected officials involved in the architecture and implementation of the eminent domain ordinance concerning the SHA property reveals a studied attempt to obscure the true purpose of the condemnors in the instant taking. The Court finds this testimony, as a whole, to be un-forthright, evasive, untrustworthy, argumentative, lacking credibility and therefore unworthy of belief.
The Superior Court, Law Division, Hunterdon County… concluded that the condemnation plan implemented by the Township of Readington was orchestrated to prevent airport expansion under the pretexutal banner of open space policy amounting to a manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain. Moreover, the resulting lack of transparency in the Township’s action subverted the political process and weakened private property rights protection.
Regardless of whether certain parcels are preempted by state law and others are open to condemnation under open space designation, it is clear to this Court that the objective evidence depicts nothing less than deliberate subterfuge on the part of Readington Township in its efforts to obfuscate the desire to preclude airport expansion under the auspices of environmental policy. This is indeed sufficient bad faith which gives rise to manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain.
In fine, the Court finds the totality of [Julia Allen’s] testimony to be un-forthright, evasive, and nonresponsive to both counsel and Court and thus dispositively lacking in credibility.
In 1995, and against sharp criticism from the NJDOT, the Township’s Board of Education decided to site an elementary school directly adjacent to the airport.
On July 11, 2006, Readington issued a press release which deceptively emphasized that the purpose of the ordinance was the voluntary negotiation and acquisition of the airport, when in fact it was plainly the prelude to the first eminent domain proceeding.
Concomitantly, CN Communications and township officials engaged in a sophisticated public relations process, at public meetings and in the press, which demonized the SHA by disseminating a catalogue of fears and appeals to mistrust which mischaracterized SHA’s plans for expansion: “ …. to include operations and the types of airplanes that might use SHA if it had a 5,600 ft. runway much like those that are used by Continental Airlines out of Newark Airport …..
The official decisions illuminated in this opinion demonstrate evasive and subversive behavior designed to thwart the democratic process and which exceeded the perimeters of proper procedure in eminent domain.
Readington Township should have adopted a forthright approach to the process and addressed its concerns about airport expansion directly. Instead it engaged in an elaborate public agitation effort to incite voter opposition, which it then channeled into an opaque condemnation action under the guise of the necessity of the contiguous greenway. Such subversion challenges the protections that sharply limit the eminent domain power.