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Eminent Domain in Connecticut | A House Divided

Eminent Domain in Connecticut | A House Divided
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On both sides, feelings still run high. “This high-pitched rhetoric owes its intensity to a long and effective public relations campaign by the Institute for Justice,” wrote Gregory Stone, deputy editor of The Day’s editorial page. “The Institute planted the story in the nation’s leading newspapers, employing as its poster person for this national campaign Susette Kelo … [The] controversy has gone over the top, from a civic controversy to a libertarian morality play.”

Not that the Institute for Justice is budging. “The [Supreme Court] decision was despised across all political persuasions, and for good reason,” says petitioners’ attorney Bullock. “What happened in Fort Trumbull was wrong. It was about ego and arrogance as opposed to common sense. [The NLDC] could easily have built around what was there.”

Londregan, the city attorney, dismisses that option: “What developer would be interested in building a brand-new building under those conditions?” What’s more, he says, the Fort had been zoned industrial/commercial since 1929 and many buildings were vacant. It never was, he says, the cozy neighborhood depicted in the media.

In the end, it’s hard to locate a true villain, despite probable missteps both in terms of how the MDP evolved and how the property owners were treated. It seems likely, too, that part of the neighborhood could have been preserved. Yet, as Londregan points out, “How often does a state government offer $70 million? How often does a major pharmaceutical company of international renown decide to build a $350 million complex in your city?” At least some of the perceived haste and heedlessness may have resulted from that.

In any case, there are two things on which almost everyone agrees: The first is that they’re tired. Kelo, the Cristofaros, Joplin, Londregan — everyone mentions being tired. And rightly so. As Von Winkle says, “We’ve been fighting for years and years.” The second point of agreement is that New London has sustained a blow to its image, both in terms of how others see it and how it sees itself. Across the United States, the city has become known as the place that trampled a woman’s right to her own home. And yet Kelo herself says, “I love this city. I hate what’s happened to it.”

During the almost decade-long fight over the future of the neighborhood, the city’s fortunes have not changed much. Plans still call for a museum, a hotel, and housing in the currently bleak and dusty Fort, but whether they will materialize remains to be seen. In the meantime, as part of the state’s $73 million investment, the city has made major improvements to the area’s infrastructure: new water and sewer lines, street lamps, and underground utilities. New roads too — wide boulevards with generous sidewalks — most of which so far lead nowhere, in wait of what will come.

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