Arlington, Va—Heroes of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., continue to fight on for their homes and the rights of homeowners nationwide. Susette Kelo, Mike Cristofaro and Rich Beyer all turned down offers on the May 31, 2006, deadline given by the City of New London for them to accept offers to sell their property or the City will forcibly evict them and impose back fees and rent.
The owners of family-occupied homes got a much-needed boost today from Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Today, in a follow-up letter to New London Mayor Beth Sabilia, Gov. Rell clarified her previous position, stating that she supports giving deeds back to family-occupied properties, with full inheritance rights and ability to sell the homes. The City would have a right of first refusal if the owner decides to sell, something the homeowners said they support.
In a previous letter of May 31, Gov. Rell wrote that she wants everyone who is not an owner-occupant of Fort Trumbull to leave the neighborhood. (That includes both of Rich Beyer’s homes and two of the three Von Winkle homes.) In that letter, Gov. Rell also said she supported returning the deeds to the owner-occupied homeowners, but only if the deeds go back to the City upon sale or death of the title holder. That would have made them essentially meaningless pieces of paper and was no different than the “lifetime occupancy” proposed by the city.
“It is great news that the governor has come through and made clear that she supports giving real deeds back to the family-occupied homes, something Susette Kelo and her neighbors have fought for since day one of this battle,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which continues to represent the homeowners. “It is disappointing, though, that the governor does not support the small businesses who are keeping rental homes in Fort Trumbull, and we ask her and the City Council to reconsider that position.”
“Governor Rell has now made her position clear with regard to my home: I should have my deed back,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in Kelo v. New London. “I really hope that the New London City Council now votes in favor of this on Monday.” On Monday, June 5, 2006, the New London City Council will meet for the first time since the May 31 deadline to decide the fate of the remaining homeowners.
“I thank Gov. Rell for her support in my fight to keep our home,” said Mike Cristofaro, whose family has owned a home in New London for over 30 years. “Let’s hope the City Council now stands up and does the right thing or else this battle will continue.”
“Small businesses are threatened by eminent domain across Connecticut and across the nation as witnessed by the threat to my properties,” said Bill Von Winkle. “These rental properties represent my family’s livelihood. The government shouldn’t take what’s rightfully mine just to make way for other private owners. I’m glad to see the other homeowners may be protected, and I hope the Governor and the City Council will respect the rights of the small businessman, too.”
The City gave Bill Von Winkle a two-week extension to decide in the wake of his son’s murder last week.
Due to the ongoing threat of losing his rental homes, small businessman Richard Beyer has been forced to continue negotiating with the State-appointed mediator and is close to reaching a settlement.
On the May 31 deadline, two of the other property owners settled with the City. Homeowner Byron Athenian settled with the City as he was not interested in relocating his house to where Susette Kelo and the rest of the homeowners are located, the only viable option aside from financial compensation being offered to the property owners. The Dery family also settled.
Matt Dery, speaking on behalf of his family, said: “My family circumstances have changed drastically since I started this battle to keep our family homes several years ago. My father is elderly and can no longer maintain his home on his own. My mother, Wilhelmina Dery, on whose behalf I was primarily fighting, passed away earlier this year. But she was able to spend the rest of her life at her home in which she had lived in her entire life. For that fact I am eternally grateful to the Institute for Justice and the many other people and organizations that have supported our fight. Even though I have reached a settlement with the City, I completely support the other homeowners in their fight to keep their homes. Moreover, I still firmly believe that what happened to me and the other property owners in Fort Trumbull was terribly wrong. No American should face the loss of their home so that other private interests may benefit.”