Milford votes limit on eminent domain: The Connecticut Post, 7/12/05

By Frank Juliano

[Milford CT] City officials politely but firmly rejected state suggestions Monday that placing local limits on eminent domain power would be premature.

The Board of Aldermen, sounding at times like the Sons of Liberty in 1775, unanimously approved an ordinance that prevents the city from using its eminent domain power to take owner-occupied housing for private economic development projects.

House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, had asked Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. to pull the ordinance off the agenda for the aldermen's City Hall meeting, promising that the issue would be dealt with by state legislation.

"All of the aldermen I spoke to wanted to go forward," Richetelli said before the vote. "But we added a line that 'this ordinance shall not conflict with any subsequent state law.'"

The ordinance submitted by Alderman Thomas Beirne, R-5, was drafted in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London upholding the southeastern Connecticut city's right to seize private homes to make way for a luxury office park.

Amann said that more than 75 state laws mention eminent domain or affect its use in some way, and that a comprehensive, consistent approach is needed to clarify how that power should be used.

"Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, it makes sense to take a full look at where we want to go with this as a state," Amann said. "One thing is certain: Connecticut's eminent domain laws will be changing and our municipalities should put any property takeover plans on hold immediately."

But Alderwoman Judith Toohey, R-2, wasn't about to wait for the Legislature. "Where has Hartford been through all of this?" she asked. "It never should have gotten to this point."

Alderman Vincent Ditchkus Jr., R-3, said Milford homeowners were victimized by the eminent domain process in the 1960s, when property was taken in the Silver Sands and Walnut Beach neighborhoods for urban renewal. "It took years for anything to happen, and a lot of people lost their homes for private developments," he said. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

But it was Beirne, invoking the spirit of the Revolutionary War patriots, who got the last word. "In Lexington, Mass., in 1775 we had British soldiers in red coats claiming land for the king," the alderman said. "Now we have judges in black robes doing it, but it's still a fight over property rights."

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