A Passaic County Superior Court judge has ordered the Paterson Parking Authority to pay the legal expenses incurred by the Levine family in the eminent domain battle over a building in South Paterson.
Judge Ernest M. Caposela on Tuesday ordered the Paterson Parking Authority to pay $23,000 to Levine Industries. Previously, the Paterson Parking Authority spent $72,000 in legal expenses to make the unsuccessful case to take over the family’s property. With the order, the government agency is now almost $100,000 in red.
Tony Perez, executive director for the Paterson Parking Authority, did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday. He did not respond to a second call on Wednesday morning, He declined to comment when reached on Wednesday afternoon.
“The city has to do things correctly. They just went rogue and thought they could bully people,” said Jeffrey Levine, who runs the Levine Industries with his uncle, Theodore Levine, which makes boxes and packaging materials from its almost 3-acre site on the corner of Courtland and Levine Street.
A judge ruled against the Paterson Parking Authority in January, leaving it to pick up Levine’s legal expenses. When the Levine family filed in court to force the agency to pay up, the Paterson Parking Authority used what the judge called a “perplexing” argument to avoid paying the winning side’s legal bills.
The agency argued it sought site access to conduct environmental testing at the family’s property and that it did not file a condemnation action. Except, in Oct. 2017, the agency adopted a resolution that authorized it to acquire the Levine properties through voluntary purchase or through eminent domain condemnation.
“Impliedly, the Authority sought preliminary access to the Levine property in order to exercise eminent domain,” wrote Caposela in the five-page opinion. “To find in favor of the Authority would be a miscarriage of justice requiring that property owners incur costs associated with fending off potential condemnation actions without reimbursement, solely because the condemnor opts to request ‘site access’ as opposed to filing the condemnation action.”
The Paterson Parking Authority has 45 days to file an appeal. Since Jun. 2018, the agency has, on four separate occasions, sought relief from the New Jersey Appellate Division. It was denied each time, said Richard DeAngelis, attorney who represented the family in the case.
“Hopefully, the message has been received that what they have done is wrong. They should back off, pay Jeff his money, and pay the family their money, and leave them alone,” DeAngelis. “End this folly.”
Perez would not say whether his agency plans to file an appeal. An appeal will put him further in the red at a time the agency has reduced the amount of money it transfers to the municipal government. Behind the scenes, some council members have talked about dismantling the Paterson Parking Authority, selling off its assets, and putting its properties back on the tax rolls to bring in regular revenue to the cash-starved municipal government.
The Paterson Parking Authority offered to pay $1.15 million for the three industrial warehouses and one office building owned by the Levine family. But the offer was rejected. The authority was looking to construct a 900-space parking deck at the site, close to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, using some of its $130 million state tax credits.
The Levine family has been doing business from the location for 143 years.
“We employ 50 people. This is what the city should want,” said Levine. He said he pays almost $100,000 in taxes to the municipal government.