8/30/2005

Lawmakers draft competing proposals on eminent domain: (Long Island NY) Newsday, 8/25/05

By Noreen Gillespie, Associated Press

In theory, [Connecticut] Rep. Steven Mikutel had no problem with the town of Norwich taking his grandfather's farm for a school.

But more than 40 years later, he says the land is still empty.

Mikutel was one of dozens of people who spoke at a public hearing Thursday about proposed changes to the state's eminent domain laws in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that said government can seize homes for private economic development projects.

"Too often they grab more land, more property, than they actually need," the Griswold Democrat said.

Connecticut's legislature and others across the country are reviewing eminent domain laws. State lawmakers drafted more than a half dozen proposals, which would do anything from pay homeowners more for their homes to halting the practice of seizing for private development.

In June, the high court ruled on a 5-4 vote that the city of New London can take homes for a private riverfront economic development project to increase its tax base. The ruling prompted an emotional backlash from homeowners worried their properties were at risk.

But a legal expert urged lawmakers to tread carefully in considering changes. While people are sympathetic to the homeowners, passing laws that cripple development might not be a wise idea, he warned.

Forcing the government to pay fair market value for properties was originally built into eminent domain laws as a deterrent to using the power, said Jeremy Paul, a University of Connecticut law professor. He suggested lawmakers make it more expensive to take a home.

"That's a much more refined tool than attempting to put a straitjacket on municipalities all around the state," he said.

One of the suggestions in the drafted bills is to pay homeowners one-and-a-half times the fair market value. Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said that while a private project could draw from revenues, cities would likely have to raise taxes to pay for the new fees.

"Without broad eminent domain powers, cities would never be able to negotiate fairly with landowners who may wish to delay or stall the development," Perez said.

Thursday's hearing was the third held on the issue, and another is planned for September or early October. Some, including House Minority Leader Robert Ward, are urging lawmakers to go into special session to pass a moratorium on seizing property in the meantime.

"Ignoring the potential plight facing all property owners is not acceptable; allowing this practice to continue is wrong," Ward, who was out of town, said in a statement.


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