Eight Years Later, the Kelo Eminent-Domain Lawsuit Site Is Still Barren, As Is National Press Coverage

How ironic it is that, as Kyle Drennen noted today at NewsBusters, that NBC's David Gregory was so vocal in advocating that "Government Playing a Bigger Role" in the economy, given that yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the Kelo vs. New London decision, a monument to colossal government failure if there ever was one.

A 5-4 Supreme Court majority, believing that the Connecticut city of New London had "carefully formulated a development plan ... (with) appreciable benefits to the community," violated the plain language of the "public use" clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment which was clearly designed to limit government eminent-domain takings to true public projects (e.g., roads, bridges, etc.). They instead decided that "public use" really means "public purpose" (i.e., anything the government wants to do, including condemning property so that it can be transferred from current to new owners in the name of some higher good).


Eight years later, "Government Playing a Bigger Role" in the city's Fort Trumbull area has, as the New London Day's Kathleen Edgcomb reports in a commendable thorough treatment which should be read in full, led to ... nothing. Oh, and current proposals include, well, you'll just have to read it to believe it (bolds are mine):

'It still hurts': Fight to save home scars one Fort Trumbull family

Three generations of Michael Cristofaro's family have at one time or another lived in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, so getting beyond the hurt of losing the family home to eminent domain has not been easy.

... These days, when he returns to Fort Trumbull, the 70-plus acre peninsula on the Thames River that was leveled by the city for redevelopment, he's more sad than angry.

"We weren't good enough?" Cristofaro asked on a warm June afternoon as he stood near a field of tall grasses and wildflowers where his house and others once stood.

... 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.

... The Italian Dramatic Club, a one-story pink stucco building that was saved from demolition, also is still there.

... Since the decision, 42 states have enacted legislation or passed ballot measures that limit the way eminent domain can be used, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

... The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm that took on the Kelo case pro bono, said more than 16,000 homes and businesses have been saved since the Supreme Court decision.

... 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.

Really, the Kelo area may turn into yet another green boondoggle. You can't make this up.

Almost no one outside the immediate New London area knows that nothing has been done in the subject area since the decision.

Even fewer know that Kelo was also a particularly egregious example of cronyism and political favoritism. The Italian Dramatic Club to which Edgecomb referred is, as I noted in early 2009, "a private social club for well-connected political elites in the surrounding area." It was spared because, according to its lawyer, "aspects of the city’s heritage have to remain sacrosanct." Today, "every building on the 90-acre (Kelo) site is gone, except for a relatively new office building at 1 Chelsea St. and the IDC."

Incredibly, Mr. Cristofaro's house was right next door to the Italian Dramatic Club.

Edgecomb also noted that Cristofaro had another home taken "so the city could build a seawall. The street is gone now and the seawall never was built."

For eight years, the national establishment press has shown almost no interest in covering what has actually happened with the property involved in the arguably most important and negatively consequential land-use case ever decided by the Supreme Court, whose five majority members really need to be asked what they think of the City's "carefully formulated a development plan" today.

It's hard not to believe that the lack of coverage has more than a little to do with not bursting anyone's bubble about the wonderful things ever more powerful governments can do, and not exposing the blatant cronyism which should have been sufficient cause for the Supremes to laugh the City's case out of the courtroom.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.