Kelo vs New London: "A classic instance of the unethical and unconstitutional marriage of convenience between developers and government."
NEW LONDON, Conn. — While western ranchers worry about the eminent domain clauses in the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, seven citizens of this New England community face a more immediate threat.
The City of New London wants office buildings and apartment clusters in the neighborhood where the seven live, and the city is using the power of eminent domain, or condemnation, to force property owners to turn the land over to private developers.
Redevelopment projects promise jobs and tax revenue in places where private investors are hard to find.
That reasoning has generally satisfied courts that are asked to decide whether displacing one private property owner on behalf of another would, as the Constitution requires, serve a public use.
The New London case, according to The New York Times, questions whether this principle has any limits.
The case revolves around the old Italian-American neighborhood of Fort Trumbull and raises questions about class and corporate behavior and the nature of government.
The Institute for Justice, a Washington-based litigation organization that represents the landowners, calls the New London case a classic instance of the unethical and unconstitutional marriage of convenience between developers and government.
It has become, the Times reports, a highly emotional and public issue. It also casts light on those threatened by eminent domain. Organized property-rights advocates are tapping into growing public skepticism about how urban renewal is carried out.
While the courts have traditionally ruled that increasing the tax base is a public use, the courts appear to be changing.
Three small property owners in Atlantic City won a decade-long fight in 1998, when a court ruled that their land could not be condemned to allow the expansion of the Trump Plaza hotel and casino.
In Port Chester, N.Y., a real estate investor is challenging New York's condemnation procedures which he says denied him the opportunity to contest the taking of his buildings in a downtown redevelopment corridor.
Earlier this year, in New Rochelle, N.Y., public outcry killed a plan to raze a residential neighborhood for an Ikea store.
The 1990s building boom emboldened economic development agencies, according to Gideon Kanner, a professor emeritus at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and publisher of a newsletter on eminent domain.
But an increasing number of cases in the last year or so have taken a new direction.
In Michigan, Kanner says, where 20 years ago the Supreme Court allowed the City of Detroit to condemn the homes of thousands of people to make way for a General Motors plant, the courts recently prohibited condemnation for a car dealership and a cable company. Kanner won a case last month in California, representing a 99 Cents Only store that was to be displaced by a Costco.
Eminent domain experts say that allowing the plaintiffs a trial is an unusual step. Most legal challenges are resolved before the facts get a public airing.
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