November 17, 2016

Eleven years after Kelo v. City of New London, IJ has returned to Connecticut to remind government bureaucrats that eminent domain abuse is wrong and unconstitutional.

Many readers will recall that in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court shocked the nation when it upheld the condemnation of an entire neighborhood in New London for “economic development.” And it was all for nothing: Where more than 70 homes and businesses once stood, there is now empty land filled with weeds. The promised new homes and businesses were never built, and the Kelo decision became infamous.

Kelo led to a nationwide backlash, and 44 states reformed their eminent domain laws. But now, cities and redevelopment agencies are trying to regain some of the power they lost. The past few years, IJ has been closely monitoring a national resurgence of eminent domain abuse.

IJ’s activism team has been on the ground in West Haven, Connecticut, since July 2015, when it heard about a Texas developer’s proposed plans for the “Haven South.” The plan calls for land to be acquired by the city and transferred to the developers so a large chunk of the West Haven waterfront (currently devoted to mixed commercial and residential uses) can be turned into an outdoor shopping mall.

Like New London, West Haven promises that the plan will create jobs and bring in revenue through property taxes, but it is not clear that the project will even be built. The developer has not yet secured its zoning permits, and it has no plans to build for at least another year.

Our activism team sprang into action, organizing property owners to protest West Haven’s plan. They held rallies, hosted town hall meetings and put up billboards. They made the front page of the New Haven Register twice. Unfortunately, in August, the city began the process of taking homes and businesses through eminent domain. Not to be defeated, the activism team identified stellar IJ clients and brought the case to the litigation team.

Our clients Bob McGinnity and his elderly uncle live near the West Haven waterfront. Their properties have been in the family for over 50 years. Bob, a Navy veteran and retired train conductor, owns and lives in the house he grew up in. Bob cares for his uncle, who recently suffered a debilitating stroke after the family heard news of West Haven’s plans to take their homes. Bob and his uncle do not know where they will go if they lose their homes.

The developer does not even need the McGinnity homes. They are on the edge of the project, and omitting them would cost the plan only a few stores. Bob has even offered to sell the back portions of his properties while keeping the homes intact so that the project can move forward. But that is not enough for West Haven and the developer.

Handing over property to a private developer is not a public use. In September, IJ sued West Haven and its redevelopment agency to stop them from making the same mistake that New London made a decade ago. This case puts IJ on a path back to the Connecticut Supreme Court so that the state can reconsider the Kelo decision and stem the tide of eminent domain abuse across the U.S.

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