It has been a little over eight years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that homeowners in New London, Conn., had no property rights. In 2005, residents in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London were told they had to abandon their homes so the city’s government could demolish them and hand the property over to developers to build hotels, health clubs and new condominiums.
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling, with a 5-4 decision, that the Fifth Amendment’s “taking clause” could extend to city governments that wanted to remove old structures and build something for the betterment of the community. Traditionally, such seizure of personal property, known as “eminent domain," had been limited to a government’s need to build facilities like schools or police stations, according to a recent story in the Boston Globe.
Today, the land that was cleared remains a 90-acre barren field with waist-high weeds. The Weekly Standard recently ran a story reporting on the the aftermath of the decision.
In 2005, the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, wanted the city to clear the land because the company had recently built a new research facility in New London. Stating that they didn’t want the new facility in a blighted neighborhood, they asked the city to raze the homes on the waterfront of the Thames River so new amenities could be built. Believing that such a move would be good for economic development, city officials agreed.
“Pfizer wants a nice place to operate,” one Pfizer executive said at the time. “We don’t want to be surrounded by tenements.”
Homeowners in the targeted neighborhood fought back. The 2005 decision from the Supreme Court, known as “Kelo v. City of New London,” was named after Susette Kelo, a resident who was fighting to protect her Victorian cottage at the site.
After losing the case, Kelo’s home was bulldozed along with others. In 2008, as the real estate bubble burst and a recession set in, developers for the property pulled out, saying they couldn’t secure financing. Pfizer sold the research facility in 2009 for $55 million.
Today, as the property sits empty, the mayor of New London, Daryl J. Finizio, Democrat, says the decision remains a “black stain” for the community. Other city officials have agreed to install a plaque at the site in memory of Margherita Cristofaro, an Italian-American who died during the legal battle trying to protect her own home. Her family had lost a home 30 years prior, also to eminent domain, so that the city could build a seawall on the river.