ATLANTIC CITY — Carmen Mollineaux is trying to get what she thinks is a fair deal for her home on the 500 block of Madison Avenue.
She shares the two-story house just off Connecticut with her 79-year-old mother, Nevella Hancock. Having depleted her savings with a $125,000 home renovation, she does not want to move.
She has to, though.
Her house is one of six properties that the Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority will acquire by use of eminent domain if necessary. The properties stand in the way of a road-widening project in the neighborhood surrounding Revel Entertainment Inc.’s megaresort, which is under construction six blocks from Mollineaux’s house.
The CRDA budgeted $13 million to buy more than 60 full or partial properties to widen Connecticut, Delaware, Mediterranean (known as Melrose in some blocks) and Massachusetts avenues. The project is designed to accommodate increased traffic from Revel’s patrons, not to mention the accompanying commercial and residential development.
“This was prior to us knowing CRDA was coming,” she said of her home upgrades. “My mother thought she would live here for the rest of her life, and when that’s the long-term plan, you don’t mind investing everything.”
Mollineaux’s house has changed since she and her mother, daughter, sister and niece moved in 15 years ago.
At the time, the women lived in four bedrooms. Tiny by today’s standards, the home had functioned fine despite its original use as a rooming house.
Mollineaux’s sister moved out after remarrying, as did the children, once grown.
Mollineaux and her mother later decided to improve their home. They converted the four bedrooms to two, but focused on the ground level, replacing the floors and revamping the kitchen and bathroom. Age and chronic illness mainly limit Mollineaux’s mother to the first floor, except when she is sleeping.
Land records put the property’s assessed value at $207,000. The CRDA has offered between $178,000 and $200,000, depending on costs to remediate an underground storage tank that assessors have detected in the backyard. The CRDA has promised to refund the difference to Mollineaux if the removal costs less.
Mollineaux rejected the offer. She wants a better one, but cannot afford to hire an attorney, she said.
Mollineaux wants more money for the renovations, inconvenience of moving and emotional value of the home.
The CRDA has told Mollineaux it cannot fully consider the improvement costs without receipts, which she said she did not keep because she did not expect to need them again.
“We didn’t know,” she said of the impending project’s effects.
State law allows condemnation if it will bring economic benefit to the community. CRDA calculates the sale price based on fair market value as determined by factors including lot size, condition and recent sales of adjacent properties. The authority cannot consider sentimental value, according Chief Operating Officer Susan Thompson.
“It’s not lost on us that acquiring people’s residence is a very, very difficult ordeal ... to go through and negotiate for a home you were not planning to leave,” she said. “We have staff who listen to their desires and listen to their dreams and where their job is and how they get to work.”
The CRDA offers, in some cases, to cover expenses for moving and temporary housing, Thompson said.
“We’ve worked very hard to communicate with people so far,” she said.
The CRDA mailed offers to property owners in August, the first formal notification that they might have to move since talks about the road-widening were made public in 2007.
“We thought when the time came, they would be fair,” Mollineaux said.
So far, owners of 36 parcels have felt the CRDA was fair enough and they have finalized the deals, or are close enough to guarantee a sale, according to CRDA records. But after reaching an impasse in negotiations with Mollineaux and five other property owners, the authority has decided to condemn their land. That group could grow, depending on the outcome of early-stage talks regarding 16 or more tracts, according to documents provided by CRDA attorneys.
Consultant DMJM Harris in May provided the CRDA with a report projecting that an estimated 1,867 vehicles per hour would come up Connecticut Avenue and cross Pacific Avenue at the Saturday night peak traffic period when Revel Entertainment opens in 2011.
Six months later, the authority has bought enough land to start the project early next year. Thompson expects the remaining deals to fall in place afterward, quickly enough to avoid any delays.
But Mollineaux, for one, says she’s not moving. She commissioned a second opinion on the value of her home from an independent appraiser, which came in at $300,000.
“I’ve gone to everybody who has a say-so. My mother is sick,” Mollineaux said. “I’d love to put up a Christmas tree and be OK with where we are.”
Inlet construction costs and details
- Land acquisition: $13 million
- Design and inspection: $2.6 million
- Construction: $36.4 million
- Total: $42 million
- Revel Entertainment LLC: $5 million*
- Casino Reinvestment Development Authority: $20 million
- South Jersey Transportation Authority: $17 million
Work details: Major road infrastructure, landscaping, acquisition, lighting, resident relocation and site preparation, on Mediterranean from Delaware to Connecticut avenues, on Connecticut from Mediterranean to Oriental avenues, plus portions of Massachusetts Avenue. Plus soft costs for design, engineering, etc.
Status: Proposals due next week. Contract awarded before the end of the year.
Estimated completion date: August 2010
Cost: $16 million*
Funding source: Revel
Work details: Enhanced landscaping and lighting in Phase I work area. Road improvements to Metropolitan and New Jersey avenues.
Note: No land acquisition needed.
Status: Pending completion of Phase I
*Refundable via tax credits
Sources: Atlantic City Regional Transportation Plan (DMJM Harris); CRDA Chief Operating Officer Susan Ney Thompson
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