By Lauren Wanko
After a five-year legal battle, Harvey Cedars homeowners Phyllis and Harvey Karan won’t get the $375,000 originally awarded after the borough used eminent domain to build a 22-foot sand dune on a beach in front of their home. Instead, the Karans’ attorney said they settled for $1 plus $24,000 in legal expenses.
“They felt disappointed in the system, but the system was such that they were not willing to go through that again,” said Peter H. Wegener, attorney for the Karans. “Let me put it this way. There was a campaign by the politicians and the press to a certain extent who made their life miserable. At their age, they just decided they were done with it.”
Less then 24 hours after the settlement, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order directing Acting Attorney General John Hoffman to immediately coordinate legal action to acquire similar oceanfront easements from about 1,100 other so-called holdouts along the coast.
“I’m certainly not gonna let selfish homeowners, on the shore, on the beach be the ones to stop us. So we’re taking the property. I told people I was gonna do this. I’ve been telling them for months. I gave people an opportunity to come forward voluntarily. Now we’re taking it,” Christie said.
The governor says the state will take first and deal with the holdouts later — in court.
“But for anyone who’s looking to litigate with us, let me make it really clear, we’re not gonna pay your legal fees after you lose. And look at what happened with the Harvey Cedars couple — $1,” Christie said.
The executive order also calls for the creation of an office within the DEP to coordinate and lead efforts to obtain the necessary property to build the dunes. Attorney Ken Porro represents about 20 sand dune easement holdouts.
“If it’s a secondary home, which is the majority of my clients, and quite frankly the majority of a lot of the oceanfront property owners, you qualify for nothing,” Porro said. “So you’re telling these people you don’t qualify for any grant money to raise your home. You’re telling these people you have some of the most priceless property in the world. You get no money. You get no clarification on the easement. Why would anyone want to sign the easement?”
The Karans’ attorney insists the executive order won’t affect his other holdout cases.
“It really adds nothing. Quite frankly, the government has the right to take the property of any of these people at any time. The only issue is they have to pay fair and just compensation for what they take,” Wegener said.
The governor promises to move on the executive order immediately. Meantime, the attorneys say they will continue to fight for what their clients deserve.