Eminent domain ordinance moved for public hearing: Stratford (CT) Star, 9/14/05

By Fred Musante

The Town Council moved closer to approving an ordinance prohibiting the town from taking any property by eminent domain for economic development when it voted unanimously to send the proposed ordinance to its Ordinance Committee for a public hearing, the first step toward approval.

Curiously, the ordinance was revised so that it was virtually identical to a rival ordinance proposed by a mayoral candidate, a version that the council previously had rejected.

The revision deleted language that limited the scope of the ordinance to only owner-occupied residential property of four or fewer units, so that it now applies to all property, including commercial or industrial.

That was the language proposed by Republican mayoral hopeful Dominic Costello last month at a press conference a few days after Councilwoman Jennifer Hillgen-Santa, R-1, submitted the more limited ordinance without his knowledge.

At the council's meeting on Aug. 8, Councilman Michael Henrick, R-10, who supports Costello, tried unsuccessfully to put Costello's version on the agenda for consideration alongside Hillgen-Santa's. It was rejected by a 5-4 vote.

Hillgen-Santa was absent from that meeting, so her ordinance was tabled until this week. The council members also voted that the ordinance would be sponsored by all of them.

Strong voter sentiment favors the ordinance, which is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in July that the city of New London had the authority to condemn 10 private homes and businesses and turn them over to a private developer for a riverfront development project.

Norman Aldrich, R-8, cautioned that the more restrictive language might not be in the town's interest in the future. The town has very limited economic development options, and this would tie its hands, he said.

James Feehan, R-9, argued that "redistribution of wealth" was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, and he wanted to ensure that people get fair value for their property if it is turned over to a private developer to make a profit.

Aldrich noted that the revision doesn't address the "fair value" issue, but voted with the rest of the council members.

The Ordinance Committee will consider the eminent domain measure on Sept. 26.

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