By Gladys Alcedo
[Groton CT] Town councilors unanimously voted Tuesday night to reject a request that they support the New London Development Corp.'s use of eminent domain at Fort Trumbull in New London.
Responding to a plea from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Councilor Peter J. Bartinik Jr., a lawyer, suggested the council send a letter, saying, “We don't agree with what (they're) doing and encourage them to take their funds and go to the opposite side of the case.”
The CCM, which advocates for the interests of the state's cities and towns, is among a number of groups that have come forward to file friend-of-the-court briefs in support of New London and the NLDC as they prepare to defend the condemnation of 15 properties at Fort Trumbull to make room for private development that would generate much-needed tax revenue for New London.
Seven homeowners have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the government's seizure of their private property was improper. They contend that the economic development proposals do not represent a proper “public use” of their land.
In letters last month to mayors, first selectmen and city and town managers, the CCM sought participation in the case.
Town Manager Mark R. Oefinger said Groton, as far as he knew, “has never used eminent domain to acquire property for economic development purposes.” But that didn't mean, he said, that a future opportunity might not arise “whereby the use of eminent domain for such a purpose could be desirable.”
The last time the issue of eminent domain came up in Groton was in 2003 when town officials became exasperated with the lack of progress in rebuilding the former Central Hall Block that burned in downtown Mystic. But the idea never went any further.
The council's decision Tuesday, reached during a meeting of the Committee of the Whole, is expected to be ratified at the council's next regular meeting. It followed a town Planning Commission recommendation last week. The commission said in a unanimous decision that it “did not endorse the town of Groton supporting New London in the case.”
Town Councilor Paulann H. Sheets, a lawyer, said she did not support the rationale used to substantiate the seizure of private lands.
“I frankly have a big problem with the philosophy of ‘Let's take your private property, including your house, because it only generates X amount in taxes,'” and turn it over to another entity to generate more taxes, she said. “Under those principles, no property is safe.”
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