Candidates oppose eminent domain: The Bristol (CT) Press, 10/5/05

By Steve Collins

[Bristol is] not going to rely on eminent domain as an economic development tool anymore.

Both mayoral candidates, Democratic incumbent Gerard Couture and Republican William Stortz, said they are opposed to seizing private property for development purposes.

"I am totally opposed to the use of eminent domain for commercial development," Stortz said.

He said that government shouldn’t seize anyone’s land except "for schools and roads and not much else."

Couture said he is also against using eminent domain to help "private development."

Though Couture, as a city councilor, backed the city’s long but ultimately successful effort to oust the Bugryn family from its Middle Street homes to make way for an industrial park, he said he won’t ever do it again.

"I don’t care if the Cleveland Indians are coming, I’d say ‘find a lot with no houses on it,’" the mayor said.

"I don’t want to deal with it," Couture said.

He said that he watched uncomfortably as former Mayor Frank Nicastro struggled to get the Bugryns off their family’s property that officials want to turn into an industrial park that could generate more taxes and jobs.

"I saw what happened," Couture said. "It was tearing me apart."

In the end, it was Couture who had to take the last step to force out the Bugryns last year. He said at that point he had no choice but to complete a lengthy legal process and take full possession of the 32 acres.

The last family members to leave, two elderly sisters, were nudged out by Couture as she showed them potential homes elsewhere and told them they had to go.

The Bugryns wound up praising the mayor for trying to make the transition easy.

The city bought the 32 acres from the Bugryns through eminent domain five years ago, paying about $1.8 million to four elderly siblings and a spouse who insisted they had no interest in leaving.

The family fought the city in court for years, but ultimately came up short.

As a councilor, Couture occasionally threatened to rebel against Nicastro’s policy towards the Bugryns but could never quite muster the support necessary.

Officials with the city and the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce have long defended the need for using eminent domain at times.

Without the use of eminent domain to take land for industrial use, former Mayor John Leone has said, the city wouldn’t have manufacturing companies on Middle Street or the 22 Technology Park.

"Imagine if those lands were not developed for industry. We’d have no tax base" and would be nearly bankrupt, Leone said last year when a state lawmaker sought to restrict the practice.

"The three top taxpayers in the city are all sitting on land taken by eminent domain," Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, has said. He cited ESPN, Covanta Energy and the Otis Elevator testing facility as facilities that began on property seized by the city government.

The use of eminent domain is crucial to the city’s growth, Rosenthal said last year. He said then that thwarting it would "stop the growth of Bristol’s industrial tax base."

Stortz was one of the few political figures last year who defended state Rep. Roger Michele’s bid to make the use of development-oriented eminent domain by city governments harder and more costly.

Bristol Press: www.bristolpress.com