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
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
"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,"
Fort Trumbull Communiqués: Orkenizer44 & Michael Cristofaro
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