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News Link • Eminent Domain

Conn. land vacant 4 years after court OK'd seizure (Kelo Eminent Domain Case)

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.

Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a "poetic justice."

"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing," said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision."

Kelo's iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that currently empty lot, just steps away from Connecticut's quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became ground zero in the nation's best-known land rights catfight.

New London officials decided they needed Kelo's land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, research and development space and a new state park that would complement a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility.

Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities across the country the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development.

The decision was sharply criticized and created grassroots backlash. Forty states quickly passed new, protective rules and regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some protesters even tried to turn the tables on now-retired Justice David Souter, trying unsuccessfully in 2006 to take his New Hampshire home by eminent domain to build an inn.

In New London the city's prized economic development plan has fallen apart as the economy crumbled.

The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, had originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm was unable to secure financing, according to President Marty Jones.

In July, backers halted fundraising for the project's crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum.

The poor economy meant that donations weren't "keeping pace with expenses," said Coast Guard Foundation president Anne Brengle.

The group hopes to resume fundraising in the future, she said.

 

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