In 2000, the city of New London, Connecticut developed a plan to create over 1,000 new jobs which would increase tax and sales revenue resulting in a better city economy. Their plan was to obtain a large parcel of land and then make that land available to a large company to build their facilities, thus creating the jobs.
The city of New London began purchasing as many of the properties in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood as possible, but some homeowners refused to sell. The city then confiscated their homes using eminent domain. The residents tried to fight the city by taking their case to the courts. Their lawsuit, Kelo v. City of New London ended up before the US Supreme Court who eventually ruled in favor of the city, saying that the economic development of the cities project was a valid use of the land and thus they were in the right to take the peoples’ homes via eminent domain. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision was rendered in 2005.
After the Supreme Court decision, the New London Development Corp began to bulldoze down the homes and clear the land for the improved public use. At the same time, the city was courting the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to build on the land which would have been a big economic boon to the town.
Pfizer moved in on the land and built their new complex. They created 1,400 jobs and everything was looking rosy for the New London city council. The rest of the land the city stole from residents was being planned for hotels, stores, condominiums and a number of homes, but none of these were ever built.
In November of 2009, Pfizer announced that they were moving the New London operations and jobs to Groton, Connecticut. With Pfizer’s departure, not only was there still a large chunk of land that had never been developed, but the largest office complex in the city was also left vacant.
Now, 8 years after the landowners were raped of their homes by city officials and US Supreme Court, the 70+ acre peninsula formerly known as the Fort Trumbull neighbor sits empty and scarred. The land that was bulldozed and cleared has eight years’ worth of weeds and shrubs along with an empty $300 million business complex and a population of feral cats.
New London city officials have been scrambling to get something developed on the land, but their efforts have been futile at best. They thought they were going to get a condominium complex with 103 units built on a piece of the land, but that has not happened as yet because of contract disputes.
It seems more recent plans may include a parking garage for a nearby boat company and what city officials describe as ‘tiny house neighborhoods’. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio described the development saying:
“Small, environmentally self-sustaining homes that are low up-keep, energy self-sufficient, etc. And a lot of cities that are trying to green themselves have looked at this kind of development. Where you were going to do big, expensive multimillion dollar Village on the Thames condos, you could have a real village on the Thames of micro lots.”
Not everyone is happy with the new plans for the ‘public use’ of the confiscated land. Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University School of Law commented:
“Mayor Finizio’s idea could well fit the narrower definition of ‘public use’ advocated by critics of the Kelo decision, which requires the condemned property to be transferred to government ownership or to a public utility or common carrier that is legally required to allow the public to use the property. But it’s not clear whether the proposal will actually work.”
“It is hard to say whether Mayor Finizio’s idea will prove any more viable. Even if it does, the condemned land will have remained empty for a decade or more by the time the new development project is completed.”
“This ensures that, even from a strictly economic point of view, the Kelo condemnations will end up destroying far more value for the city of New London than they are likely to create. Had the city simply left the previous property owners alone, they would have continued to pay property taxes on their homes and rental properties, and otherwise contribute to the local economy. In addition, [the] city and state would have saved millions of dollars in various expenses associated with the takings.”
“However, it would be wrong to say that no one at all has benefited from the Kelo takings. So long as the condemned land remains unused, it can continue to serve as a home for feral cats.”
One of the former home owners of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood is Michael Cristofaro. His family had lived in the neighborhood for generations. A local newspaper quoted him as saying:
“We weren’t good enough?” We wanted to be part of it. That’s what they didn’t understand. It wasn’t about money. It was about living here. This was our home.”
When Cristofaro and others that lived in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood drive by where their homes once stood, all they see are the scars left behind when their homes were raped from them. The all-important ‘public use’ of the land that was upheld by the Supreme Court has really never happened and doesn’t seem like it will likely happen anytime soon. For them, the empty land only serves to keep the scars of their ordeal fresh and painful.
If you ask me, I feel that the city of New London should be forced to return the land to the homeowners and that they city should rebuild their homes at the city expense. The city should also be forced to tear down the empty Pfizer complex so the residents don’t have to put up with seeing the eyesore. And this should be used a warning for any other city, county or state government that is contemplating stealing more homes from law abiding citizens via eminent domain for so-called ‘public use.’