Recently, a reporter with the Weekly Standard paid a visit to New London, Connecticut, site of perhaps the most well-known eminent domain controversy in the country. As you will recall, New London hoped to jump-start economic development in the city and add much-needed jobs. To realize this goal, in 1998 the city partnered with New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a private nonprofit organization. The anchor to the revitalization project was Pfizer, which was offered copious tax breaks to locate a $300 million research facility in the Fort Trumbull area of New London. The hope was that the Pfizer facility would draw additional mixed development to the area. NLDC’s plan called for nearly 90 acres in the Fort Trumbull area to be redeveloped, which included approximately 115 privately owned properties.
To summarize: New London gave NLDC the authority to acquire the property it needed for the project by eminent domain . Locals objected and brought suit to challenge the use of eminent domain to take private property for private use – they claimed in part that the takings violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2004, and in a 5-4 decision, the Court affirmed the city’s ability to use eminent domain to acquire the properties, finding that the redevelopment served a “public purpose.”
Since that decision was handed down, the private buildings in the redevelopment area have been razed – but no further development has occurred. Pfizer pulled out of the project and decided to relocate to another city. The condemned land is vacant and unused. Most of the prior homeowners have moved to different parts of Connecticut. The legacy of the Kelo decision continues to ripple in both the legal field and in the lives of those most directly effected in New London.
[NLDC is now the Renaissance City Development Association, and you can see the “before” and “after” photo right on their website. The “after development” photo shows copious vacant land once belonging to Susette Kelo and others.]