Winners of eminent domain case order residents out: (Long Island NY) Newsday, 9/13/05

By John Christoffersen, Associated Press

The New London agency that won a U.S. Supreme Court victory allowing it to seize property for private development is telling residents to vacate the homes, reigniting a controversy that has spread across the country.

A group representing the home owners accused the quasi-public New London Development Corp. of reneging on a promise not to seize the properties while lawmakers considered changing the state's eminent domain laws. State House Minority Leader Robert Ward, a Republican, called for a special session to enact a moratorium on property seizures, while the homeowners vowed to continue fighting.

"We're not going nowhere," said Michael Cristofaro, who received one of the notices. "They're going to have to pry my cold fingers from the house."

The notices order the property owners and tenants to vacate within 30 to 90 days and start paying rent to the NLDC during that period, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based group representing the homeowners.

If residents do not comply, the agency has the option of pursuing an eviction in court, but officials said they hope to resolve the cases without taking that step.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that New London could take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to build a privately owned hotel and office space. The court also said states are free to ban the taking of property for such projects.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and state lawmakers urged local governments to refrain from seizing property for private development until they decide whether to change the state's eminent domain laws. Rell also favors a special session to deal with the issue, said spokesman Judd Everhart.

"It was the governor's desire that a moratorium be imposed and she believes this action violates the spirit of the call for a moratorium," Everhart said.

The NLDC said it agreed in July to a voluntary moratorium on new eminent domain takings. The agency said it reserved its rights to act in the best interests of the taxpayers of New London on the land it acquired five years ago through eminent domain.

"Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that all our actions were done in accordance with appropriate Connecticut and federal law, and all appeals have been exhausted, we intend to implement this ruling in a fair and reasonable manner," Michael Joplin, president of NLDC, said in a statement. "It's time to move forward for the benefit of all the citizens of New London and begin the transformation of the Fort Trumbull area."

Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute For Justice, accused the agency of lying.

"They had agreed explicitly that they would not move forward with these condemnations," Bullock said. "They don't have any new condemnations."

One NLDC notice demands the owner to pay $600 per month in "occupancy payments" and told to vacate in 90 days, while another owner was given 30 days to leave, the group said.

Richard Beyer, whose tenant received a notice, also vowed to fight.

"Those guys are crazy," Beyer said.

The agency, which said it sent out five notices this week, promised to work with the property owners to determine their qualification for financial relocation assistance and help them find replacement housing. NLDC said the project will provide jobs, increased tax revenue, the clean-up of toxic sites and public access to the Thames River.

"The NLDC's actions are breathtaking in their arrogance and defiance of the wishes of Governor Rell and Connecticut's legislature," said Bullock. "The NLDC is an unelected, unaccountable body that has been given the government's eminent domain power and is out of control."

Because the state had previously sanctioned the city's use of eminent domain for Fort Trumbull, it was unclear whether lawmakers could make New London delay its plans.

Patrick Scully, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, cast doubt on the prospects for a special session.

"The quick fix is often a bad fix," Scully said.

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