They Never Learn

Seventeen years ago, the New London Development Corporation embarked on an ambitious plan to revitalize New London, CT by attracting new, high-end commercial development to a site along the city’s waterfront. To help the NLDC implement its plan, the State of Connecticut gave it money and the City of New London gave it the power of eminent domain.

When the NLDC attempted to use eminent domain against citizens who owned homes within the redevelopment area, the homeowers fought back–all the way to the US Supreme Court. In the end, however, the homeowners lost, and the NLDC took their homes and cleared the land. Nevertheless, for the NLDC it was a pyrrhic victory.  It spent hundreds of millions of dollars of the State’s money; it destroyed a well-maintained and well-loved neighborhood; it made New London a byword for government folly and abuse;  but it didn’t attract any new development. Instead, the site where the homeowners’ homes once stood remains a barren wasteland to this day!

You might think that civic leaders in Connecticut would have learned a lesson from what happened in New London, but evidently not. The Daily Signal reports that, 50 miles up the road from New London, the City of West Haven, CT is attempting to use eminent domain to implement a redevelopment plan of its own:

[Janet] Rodriguez along with her neighbors…is fighting the city of West Haven to keep her home….

The city [is] working with a developer to build a $200-million, 425,000-square-foot waterfront project called The Haven, a high-end mall that includes 100 outlet stores and six restaurants….

The West Haven City Council approved a plan giving the city and its development authority, the West Haven Development Authority, the ability to exercise its eminent domain powers and condemn Rodriguez and her neighbors’ properties to build The Haven.

“We pay taxes. This is our home,” Rodriguez said. “[Developers] don’t even know West Haven. They just look at the map and say we’re going to make a mall. They don’t even look at the people in the middle.”…

Next door to Rodriguez’s home sits property owned by Bob McGinnity, who has lived in West Haven for nearly 50 years.

A lifelong Connecticut resident and retired railroad conductor, McGinnity thought his family “upgraded” when they moved from nearby New Haven to West Haven when he was just a little kid….

Like Rodriguez, McGinnity…doesn’t plan to move….

The developers, two “cowboys from Texas,” McGinnity said, have offered what he calls “fear-market value” for his home. However, he has no plans to accept the developers’ offers….

In an email to The Daily Signal, Joe Riccio, the commissioner of Planning and Development for West Haven, said…

“The city hopes that the Haven will provide much needed tax revenues and jobs for its citizens…. Of equal importance is what The Haven will mean to the city of West Haven. This will be the largest investment in the city of West Haven in its history.

“It will make West Haven a destination, stimulate other development (it already has), and it will buoy the spirit of its citizens.”

While Rodriguez doesn’t blame the city for wanting good things for West Haven, she doesn’t see why the city has to take her home to accomplish its goals of bringing more revenue and jobs to the city. And she plans on fighting to keep her home.

“[My youngest son] said, ‘Mommy, why are you letting these people take our home?’ I said it’s not up to me. It’s up to the people who have the power and the money,” Rodriguez said. “I want him to see me fighting. I will fight to the end.”

It’s a statement of fact for Rodriguez, one McGinnity echoed.

“We’re going to fight.”

Jon Guze / Director of Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...

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