Eminent domain ordinance fails: Stratford (CT) Star, 10/13/05

By Deanna Holgerson

Fearing it might stop development in Stratford, the Town Council said no to the eminent domain ordinance Tuesday.

The ordinance, which would have banned the town from condemning private property by eminent domain for economic development purposes, died in a 5-4 vote. Although it received five votes, it needed six for approval.

It might have passed if two councilmen who were expected to vote for it, Ray Voccola, D-5, and Phil Pepin, R-7, had not been absent.

Town Council Chairman Joe Crudo, R-at-Large, who cast the last no vote to defeat it, called the ordinance shortsighted.

It doesnt allow development for the benefit of all citizens, said Crudo, whose final vote killed the ordinance.

Councilman Alvin ONeil, D-2, agreed stating that the ordinance limits the town from developing property or redeveloping areas that need it.

We have to have businesses in town, said ONeil, who voted against the ordinance. The only way to reduce the tax burden on residents is for businesses to pay their share.

I would hate to see this ordinance cripple the town, he said.

There are many areas in Stratford that are crying out for economic development, said Councilman Norm Aldrich, R-8.

Im not in favor of taking someone's property for less than fair market value, Aldrich said. I believe that this ordinance will put unnecessary constraint on the town. Thats why Im voting against this ordinance.

Councilwoman Jennifer Hillgen-Santa, R-1, proposed the eminent domain ordinance, which bans the use of condemnation of any kind of property for economic development.

I dont believe the town should take real property without paying for market value, Hillgen-Santa said. If the taxes are being paid on the property, then the town should be willing to pay for it.

Hillgen-Santa, who voted in favor of the ordinance, wrote the eminent domain law, which is similar to what some other communities in Connecticut have already approved. These ordinances stemmed from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold an eminent domain law in New London that claimed private property for a waterfront project.

As part of its decision, the court ruled that more stringent state and local law could supersede federal law, prompting the recent rush to adopt such legislation.

Crudo and Aldrich supported Hillgen-Santas original ordinance proposal but opposed the version that was passed by the Ordinance Committee.

Hillgen-Santas original ordinance language would have limited the condemnation ban to owner-occupied residential property with four or fewer units. The revised language, which is similar to a proposal made by Republican mayoral candidate Dominic Costello, bans condemnation of any property for economic development.

Councilmen Jim Feehan, R-9, and Mike Henrick, R-10, both said the ordinance should state that developers should buy residential properties at market value, not fair market value. Feehan and Henrick voted in favor of the ordinance.

I dont believe that property should be taken at fair market value and given to a developer who often has more money then they know what to do with, Feehan said.

Councilmen Gavin Forrester III, D-3, and Angelo Stavola, D-4, voted for the eminent domain ordinance, and Councilman Tom Grega, R-6, voted against it.

Stratford Star: www.zwire.com