by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Despite being upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2005 as a legitimate exercise of eminent domain, the decision by the City of New London, CT, to take some of its citizens’ homes and give the land on which they stood to a private developer was a source of widespread outrage at the time. And even now, ten years later, the City is still finding it difficult to put the negative publicity and the lingering bad feelings behind it and "move forward."
On March 20th, The New London Day reported:
After years of stalled development and an uncertain future for the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, the City announced…that a Pennsylvania company is proposing a 104-unit, $18.4 million residential development on the peninsula.
It then went on to remind its readers:
In 2000, the City Council approved a Municipal Development Plan for Fort Trumbull….Under the plan, nearly all the buildings in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood were leveled to make way for new multiuse developments.
Some properties were taken by eminent domain and some of the owners fought the takings, which sparked a legal debate that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, the court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the city had the right to use eminent domain powers to take property for the city’s economic development purposes.
The paper noted, with perhaps a bit of understated irony, that, if the announced project were actually to be built, it would be the first new construction in Fort Trumbull since the approval of the development plan in 2000. Adding to the irony, the paper also noted that the project would be built entirely "on land that was once the Naval Undersea Warfare Center site" rather than on the land that had been taken from its owners under Kelo. As The Day‘s readers would know only too well, apart from a colony of feral cats, that land has remained vacant ever since the City evicted Susette Kelo and her fellow plaintiffs and demolished their homes.
More recently, on March 31st, The Day reported another announcement by the City, this time about a proposal to make use of some, at least, of the seized property:
The vacant parcel of land at the corner of Trumbull and East streets where Suzette Kelo’s little pink house once stood could be set aside as a permanent public park recognizing the residents whose homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood were taken by the city’s use of eminent domain powers more than a decade ago.
In his State of the City address Tuesday evening, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced that he and the Renaissance City Development Association have reached an agreement that would remove Kelo’s former property from consideration for any future development. "It is my personal hope that this park will serve as a memorial to all those adversely effected by the city’s use of eminent domain." Finizio said.
The report in The Day did not indicate how much comfort, if any, the proposed memorial would give Ms. Kelo and her former neighbors, nor did it provide any information about what would happen to the cats.
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