CCM says suggested eminent domain moratorium too broad: (Long Island NY) Newsday, 7/18/05

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press

The largest organization of Connecticut municipalities said Monday that a suggested moratorium on seizing private property is unnecessarily broad.

A spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities [CCM] said towns and cities using eminent domain laws for traditional public uses, such as building schools and roads, should be able to proceed.

Lawmakers suggested the moratorium after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that New London can seize homes for a private economic development project. They want time to consider changing Connecticut's laws to provide more protection for property owners.

But in a letter sent Monday to legislative leaders and Gov. M. Jodi Rell, CCM said there are many categories of eminent domain that have not generated the same concern as the proposed property takings in New London.

"If they've begun eminent domain proceedings within the letter of the law ... they should be able to still go forward," said Kevin Maloney, a CCM spokesman.

New London wants to take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for a waterfront redevelopment initiative. The Supreme Court decision sparked public outrage and last week prompted majority Democrats in the legislature to urge municipalities and the state to put any eminent domain plans on hold.

CCM, which backed the New London project in court hearings, said that case deals with transferring occupied residential property to a private owner for economic development.

And CCM maintains the legislature is unlikely to curtail justified and fair uses of eminent domain, which the organization calls a long-recognized and essential tool for state and local governments.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office last year handled 40 eminent domain cases. Most involved the state Department of Transportation seeking land for highway projects. His office does not, however, handle municipal cases. CCM doesn't have statistics on how often municipalities use eminent domain to take property.

House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford, and other Republicans want the legislature to pass a bill later this month that would create a moratorium. He said CCM's objection to the proposal proves that a law is needed.

"I think the letter underscores why the legislature should act sooner rather than later," he said.

Ward, who proposed legislation that would have curtailed the use of eminent domain, said he believes CCM is attempting to leave open the possibility of small businesses being taken to make way for larger businesses.

Ward said he finds that as offensive as taking residential properties.

"There's no question that big city mayors want to retain, in almost all respects, the current economic development taking laws," Ward said.

Ward said it's unlikely the Democrat-controlled legislature will vote on a moratorium later this month. That's when the General Assembly is scheduled to return to consider overriding any of Rell's vetoes.

Democrats have said they want to hold public hearings, possibly as early as this month, inviting national experts and state and local government officials to testify on eminent domain.

While they expect to make some changes to the law, Democrats said they want to proceed carefully because eminent domain powers are referenced in at least 80 state statutes.

If lawmakers reach a deal on eminent domain reforms, they could hold a special legislative session before the next regular session opens in February.

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