Settlement details released in eminent domain case
August 22, 2006
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New Haven, Connecticut - Property owners received an additional $2.3 million from the state to settle their claims and relocate after a long-fought eminent domain battle against the city of New London that touched off a national firestorm.
The state money is in addition to about $1.7 million that been held in escrow for the six property owners since their homes and businesses were condemned by the New London Development Corp. in 2000, officials said. The city also agreed to waive about $1.1 million in back rent it claimed it was owed from the time the properties were condemned.
The NLDC first proposed the redevelopment project in 1998 and condemned the properties in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 23, 2005, that New London had the right to take the properties to make way for a riverfront project slated to include condominiums, a hotel and office space.
"The reason for the settlement was to avoid additional litigation regarding occupancy now that the U.S Supreme Court has ruled," said Tom Londregan, city attorney for New London.
New London Mayor Elizabeth Sabilia said she was relieved to have the matter settled.
"The city of New London had been vilified for following the law," Sabilia said. "On the other hand, it seems to be a very steep premium for following the law."
The city could have pursued the development without seizing the properties, said Scott Bullock, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners.
"This certainly provides better compensation for them and at least allows them a chance to buy properties comparable to what they have now," Bullock said.
The last two holdouts in New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood agreed in June to give up their land to make way for private development.
Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the case, agreed to have her pink cottage moved elsewhere in New London.
Pasquale Cristofaro, the other holdout, has agreed to give up his home, but is entitled to purchase a new one in the neighborhood at a fixed price if new homes are built.
Documents detailing the settlements were released Tuesday after a vote by the City Council.
Kelo received an additional $319,000 on top of the original $123,000 she was offered, records show. The city also waived a claim for back rent of $85,000.
Kelo has until June 15, 2007, to leave her house, while other property owners have departure dates in the coming months.
Cristofaro has said his family won some concessions in the final negotiations that mean a lot to them personally. The city must erect a plaque on the planned Fort Trumbull riverwalk honoring Cristofaro's mother, Margherita, who died in 2003, and must transplant rhododendron bushes and arborvitae from Cristofaro's property.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said states were free to change their eminent domain laws.
Legislatures in twenty states have since passed some form of legislation limiting eminent domain.
Connecticut lawmakers, however, have not done so.
The largest payment went to William Von Winkle, who received a total of about $1.5 million for his properties and another $300,000 for an additional building the city decided to buy from him. Von Winkle said he still did not receive fair market value.
"I can't go buy anything with a gun like they did," Von Winkle said. "This money was to make them look good. I will look for something safe from eminent domain, if that's possible in this country now."
Copyright 2006, The Stamford Advocate.