May 6, 2008: Crank the Wayback Machine to Summer, 2005. When the U.S. Supreme Court allowed New London, Connecticut, to use eminent domain to take the property of people living and doing business in the waterfront neighborhood of Fort Trumbull. The Supreme's decision on Kelo v. New London was the cherry on an ugly sundae. New London and the state supported quasi-public New London Development Corporation (NLDC) had been trying to take Fort Trumbull for years. The “public use” justification? Fort Trumbull, with its hodge podge of single and multifamily homes, and its mix of moderate and low income residents, could be replaced by a deluxe and delightful development project that would generate more revenues; easing the burden on New London property owners and providing more cash for local government and public education. (That nearby Pfizer Pharmaceutical also wanted Fort Trumbull to become a more upscale accessory wasn't included on the official bennie list.)
A small group of Fort Trumbull owners (including Susette Kelo, under whose name the Supreme Court case was filed) resisted being sacrificed for the greater good. Even when paid some folks have a thing about being forced by government to git for the rich. Claire Gaudiani, then president of Connecticut College (a private college in New London that advertises itself as “highly selective”
) and a former NLDC exec, decried the resistors' selfishness-- essentially claiming they were costing local minority children a better education. As for the elderly people and families in Fort Trumbull who didn't want to leave long time homes, Gaudiani famously declared that “anything working in our great nation” had required “skin on the sidewalk”. New London's manifest destiny was to become “a hip little city”.
Androids may dream of electric sheep,
but urban planners fantasize over faux hip.
This is all water round the Fort Trumbull peninsula. After the last few resistors departed in 2006, Corcoran Jennison, the preferred developer for the Fort Trumbull project, got cracking on a tony utopia. A thousand condos bloomed. Crowds of affluent young professionals now sip lattes and tap laptops in cafes overlooking the Long Island Sound. Revenues are rolling in. Property taxes have been slashed and children are learning to read and write as well as kids did a half century ago.
The real squeal--
Fort Trumbull is a residential wasteland. Ain't nothing going on but the mud. According to Corcoran Jennison, the makeover is mired in the slack lending market. Speaking of slack, Corcoran Jennison has been dragging its feet on the Fort Trumbull residential redo for years, citing a string of reasons. The NLDC has had to get tough with Corcoran time and time again. Stern warnings have been issued. Fines have been levied. Deadlines have been drawn and redrawn in the sand. And Corcoran Jennison's residential plan, as presented to the citizenry of New London in 2000, has undergone some important changes. By 2006, the development model had morphed from condos into apartments. New London's Zoning and Planning Commission had no authority over the switch from home ownership to multifamily rentals. The NLDC and its parent, the State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), called the shots. As it was in the beginning, so it continues.
The quasi-public NLDC controls the deeds to the land taken from Fort Trumbull's property owners. The DECD is the financial power behind the NLDC and the taking and remaking of Fort Trumbull. Though a state agency supported by state taxpayers, the DECD channels mega money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Aka HUD. Overseer of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA).
In early March 2008, Corcoran Jennison made another change in its Fort Trumbull residential plan by seeking an alternative to conventional financing; asking the FHA to pick up the slack of the slack lending market and back a $11.5 million loan. The loan, provided by an approved lender, would be insured under the Section 220 program, which applies to multifamily housing projects in urban areas in need of revitalization. Despite the fact that such areas have lots of poor people and Corcoran Jennison is a big player on the regional government-assisted affordable housing scene, New Londoners need not fear that a low income enclave will replace moderate and low income Fort Trumbull. Luxury digs are still the name of the game. Income limits on tenants will NOT be restricted. So says Kristine Foye,* spokeswoman for the New England Regional Office of HUD. The president of Corcoran Jennison, Marty Jones, worked for HUD during the Ford administration. First in Washington and then as a multifamily housing rep in Boston. Please-- no jokes about how many HUD bureaucrats does it take to screw in a revitalization...
Should Corcoran Jennison default on the FHA insured loan, HUD would pay back the lender and take possession of whatever was built, or partly built, on the land controlled by the quasi-public NLDC, which is controlled by the HUD-bucked DECD. Doubtless this doomsday scenario will never take place, since all the involved acronyms know real estate like Corcoran Jennison knows slack.
How Corcoran Jennison fared with their FHA loan request hasn't been announced. Dire words about the developer's lack of financing are coming from the NLDC. Corcoran Jennison faces yet another deadline at the end of May. According to NLDC president Michael Joplin** if Corcoran doesn't come through with financing the NLDC could be “very close” to giving them the heave ho. Don't count on it tho. The tangled DECD, NLDC, City of New London, and Corcoran Jennison relationship smacks of the US engagement in Iraq; getting in was a big mistake but getting out means loosing face. And while the mission may have changed into something completely different over the years, taxpayer dollars keep boots on the wasted ground.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
*"Fort Trumbull Developer Asks FHA To Back $11.5M Loan," Kevin Dale, The [New London] Day, 03/14/08
**"Fort Trumbull Housing Plan in Jeopardy," Kevin Dale, 04/30/08
Sources include but are not limited to:
Trustee Profile, Marty Jones, Urban Land Institute, Marge Fahey, 05/07
Planning & Zoning Commission Minutes, City of New London, 07/20/06
All Politics is Local, and Sadly, Sometimes Personal, Laura Mansnerus, New York Times, 07/03/05
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