Plan Restricts Eminent Domain : Voices (Washington CT), 8/3/05

By John Addyman

Reacting to what it termed a "terrible opinion" by the U.S. Supreme Court, the [Washington Depot] Zoning Commission has proposed an ordinance that will help the town of Washington stifle itself if it's thinking of exercising its eminent domain powers.

The Supreme Court decision allowed the city of New London to take over private homes, then hand them over to a private developer for a renovation project.

The decision has sent shock waves nationwide through municipalities and land-use bodies.

"It undermines property rights in this country," said Zoning Commission Chair Hank Martin of the high court's decision. "It goes against home ownership, to take private property away from one private individual and give it to another."

He said the court has invited municipalities to offer their own regulations to prevent such an occurrence, "to have the local government restrain itself."

Mr. Martin said he had spoken to First Selectman Dick Sears, who was "very supportive of the Town of Washington doing something."

Mr. Martin contacted town attorney Mike Zizka next and proposed an ordinance.

That ordinance will be discussed in a town meeting in August.

Essentially, the ordinance states that no town official, agency or anyone acting in the name of the town "shall be authorized to propose, approve or appropriate funds for the use of the power of eminent domain to take private property" unless the property meets one of three criteria.

First, the property that is to be owned by the town or one of its agencies will be set aside for public use (roads, parks, schools, etc.).

Or, second, the property is to be set aside for open space or drainage or erosion control.

The third criterion is that the property poses a danger to public health or safety and is being taken by the town to remediate conditions or minimizing danger to the public.

"Only one town has enacted an ordinance," said Mr. Martin. "I know that many other towns are looking at this. The notion is widely accepted and supported."

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