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EDA's Follies: Part Two
April 4, 2006: On April 3rd, the city council of New London, Connecticut, in a 5 to 2 vote, blew another chance to heal the city they represent. It's been roughly 6 years since New London's municipal government, and the quasi-public New London Development Corporation (NLDC), launched an eminent domain attack on the homes of residents in the modest waterfront neighborhood of Fort Trumbull. The rationale for the "taking" was that the homes stood on land which would produce more tax revenue via an upscale redevelopment.

The use of eminent domain in Fort Trumbull opened a deep rift in the body politic of New London. Some Fort Trumbull residents resisted the seizure of their property all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though the Court, in its Kelo v. New London decision of June, 2005, ultimately let New London and the NLDC's expansive interpretation of "public use" stand, the finding didn't bring peace to the city. Eminent domain abuse (EDA) inevitably pits neighborhood against neighborhood, and neighbor against neighbor, as economic interests collide. It also pits people with a deep connection to their homes, and who don't want to leave even if compensated, against those who don't understand-- and dislike-- an attachment they deem irrational.

All the usual socially destructive aspects of EDA were at work in New London during the years of legal wrangling prior to the Supreme Court denouement. To make matters worse, local government officials and the NLDC seemed incapable of reasonable compromise. The executive officers of the NLDC were particularly bad in this respect. Their egos seemed inextricably bound up with the total capitulation of Fort Trumbull's last homeowners. Who only numbered a handful, and could have been accommodated in a number of ways. Including an in-fill approach to redeveloping the land around their homes. The well kept condition of those homes incidentally, was remarked upon by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner in her dissenting opinion re Kelo v. New London.

After the Court ruling, the taking of Fort Trumbull did not proceed as the city, and the NLDC, hoped. The general public reacted with revulsion to the decision. Not only did they see it as a blow to the essential freedom of property rights, but they also understood that the social dynamics of the Fort Trumbull land grab stank to high heaven. The combination of issues produced a rare political unity between right and left. Both focused a great deal of negative attention on New London, its municipal government and the NLDC. Within Connecticut, citizens responded just as negatively, as did much of the state's mainstream press.

In late Summer of 2005, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell declared a temporary stay on evictions in Fort Trumbull. But the NLDC attempted to launch a stealth eviction, claiming to misunderstand her words. Governor Rell brought the NLDC to partial heel. The relationship between the city and the quasi-public agency was in turmoil. An NLDC top executive bit the dust. Since then a resolution has been sought that would allow the city to proceed with its redevelopment plans, yet also respect the rights and dignity of the last few remaining homeowners of Fort Trumbull. Or at least-- such a resolution has been sought by some.

At the April 3rd city council meeting, City Councilors William Cornish and Charles Frank of the One New London Party, put forth a proposal that the last occupied homes in Fort Trumbull should be moved onto a parcel of land in the neighborhood. The owners would have the deeds to their homes returned, and would pay the back taxes accrued on their homes since last June. But though the other 5 members of the city council (New London's main governing body), Mayor Beth Sabilia, and the NLDC agreed to the homes being moved, they didn't want to return the deeds. Instead, they want the remaining residents to lease back their homes from the city and the NLDC. Forcing them to become the tenants of a government they've battled for years-- and of a quasi-public agency with a taste for retaliation. Among the reasons given by those who oppose returning the deeds, is that doing so might put the city in a "vulnerable legal position".

The last standing homeowners-- or "former homeowners" if you like-- of Fort Trumbull have until May 31st to either accept a monetary settlement (but only after signing a waiver of any future legal action) and leave, or stay on as tenants of those who took their homes. An arrangement reminiscent of deals struck with the Indian nations, and yet another shining example of the rock or a hard place choices that characterize EDA.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

P.S. There is some hope Governor Jodi Rell will once again intervene on behalf of the residents of Fort Trumbull. Why not drop her a polite line of encouragement? Email contact info follows:

Governor.Rell(at)po.state.ct.us.

Sources include:

"Plan to Resolve Fort Trumbull Impasse Nixed by NL Council," Elaine Stoll, The New London Day, 04/04/06

"New London city council nixes move of eminent domain homes," WTNH, 04/03/06

Fort Trumbull Communiqués: Orkenizer44 & Michael Cristofaro

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Copyright (c) 2006 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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