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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » Kelo

Kelo

Where’s the Revolution?

Susette Kelo still misses the home she was forced to leave in 2007. It was a small, pink clapboard house (above) located in a working-class neighborhood of New London, Conn., at the edge of the Thames River just before it spills into Long Island Sound. The house wasn’t luxurious, but Kelo was happy after moving there in 1997. “It was a real neighborhood back then,” she says. “We watched out for each other.”

New London city officials, however, had other plans for the Fort Trumbull neighborhood where Kelo lived. After the federal government closed the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in 1996, taking some 1,500 jobs with it, the city was on a downward slide with rising unemployment and falling population. Those concerns gave rise to a plan to redevelop the Fort Trumbull area just south of the city center by replacing the single-family homes and small businesses there with high-end riverfront condominiums, restaurants, offices and a resort hotel.

In January 2000, the New London City Council authorized the private, nonprofit New London Development Corp. to purchase 90 acres in the Fort Trumbull peninsula. The council also empowered the corporation to acquire land by eminent domain if any property owners refused to sell.

Most owners did sell their properties to the corporation, but Kelo and a handful of others held out—one of them had been born in her house in 1918 and lived there ever since. They battled in state and fed­eral courts for five years, challenging the town’s right to condemn their properties.

The property owners took their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the end, a sharply divided court ruled against them. By a 5-4 vote in Kelo v. City of New London, the jus­tices ruled in 2005 that the city’s actions did not violate the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. The majority opinion emphasized that the court has consistently interpreted the “public use” requirement in the takings clause to broadly encompass “public purposes” such as redevelopment plans, even if they call for transferring ownership from one private party to another.

These are sad times we live in. Two steps forward, one step back is an illusion and the exact opposite of what is happening in this country.

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