The Kelo Condemnation Site Still Lies Empty Eight Years after the Supreme Court Ruled it Could be Taken for “Economic Development”

In its controversial 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that private property can be taken and transferred to other private owners in order to promote “economic development.” Eight years have passed since that decision. But, as the New London Day reports, there is still no development going on. The site continues to lie empty:

In the late 1990s, with around $80 million from the state, the city began a redevelopment project that included razing the worn-down neighborhood of single- and multi-family homes along with the bones of an abandoned federal research center at Fort Trumbull. Many home owners sold their land and moved on. Some properties were taken by eminent domain.

A hotel, restaurant, conference center, athletic center, bioscience office park and new housing were supposed to be built next to a new $300 million Pfizer Inc. office building. But eight years after the landmark Supreme Court decision, which expanded the parameters of eminent domain to include the taking of private property for future economic development, there is still no new construction in Fort Trumbull….

Last year, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio issued an apology to former Fort Trumbull property owners [whose land was taken] and announced a restructuring of the New London Development Corp….

The mayor wants the land that was taken by eminent domain to be set aside and used only for public projects. Possibilities include a desalinization plant, a wind farm and a solar field. A municipal parking garage with ground-floor retail is also a possibility, he said….

But as of now, nothing is happening at the site.

A groundbreaking for the first phase of the 103-unit, $24 million condominium project was postponed last month after a dispute over financing of $8 million for the first phase of the project. The developers, Irwin and Robert Stillman of Riverbank Construction, and the RCDA are headed for mediation.

Eventually, something will probably get built on the site. But in the meantime, it will have lain empty for many years, probably at least a decade in all. In addition to the financial and emotional costs imposed on the people who lost their homes, this hiatus ensures that the takings will be a net loss when it comes to promoting development for the city as well. It is actually quite common for economic development takings to end up destroying more development than they create.

Fortunately, the eight year wait was not a total loss. Feral cats have been making use of the land where Susette Kelo’s house once stood. But I suspect that the city could have built an even better home for the feral cats for a lot less than $80 million, and without condemning any private property.

Meanwhile, I suppose it is a good thing that Mayor Finizio apologized to the people who lost their homes. He was following in the footsteps of Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer, who voted to uphold the takings in the 4-3 state court decision that was later reviewed by the federal Supreme Court.