Panel backs eminent domain proposal: Stamford (CT) Advocate, 6/21/06

By John Nickerson

The [Norwalk CT] Common Council's Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing next month to determine whether the full council should vote on each privately owned parcel to be seized for redevelopment.

The reform would place more of an onus on developers involved in urban renewal projects to explain to the council why they need the property, committee Chairman Michael Coffey said last night.

The Ordinance Committee unanimously voted for the proposal.

Redevelopment Agency Timothy Sheehan said that he had no objection to the individual review.

Concerns about the city's power to use eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to a developer for large-scale urban redevelopment projects have been heightened in recent months in Norwalk as the city moves forward with its West Avenue plan.

Business and property owners in the area have appealed to city leaders to spare their sites, raising questions about what standards should be used to determine if a property is blighted.

The Common Council currently casts a single vote on a list of properties slated to be acquired for urban renewal plans, Sheehan said.

Last fall, Coffey was handed a defeat when his committee proposed another eminent domain control to the full Common Council.

At that time, the committee wanted to ban the use of eminent domain for economic development projects, while leaving the door open for such seizures if needed for construction of public facilities, preservation of open space and the protection of health and safety.

The council defeated that motion, 11-3.

This time, Coffey said he should get the support of the council for this newest reform.

Coffey suggested last night that each eminent domain vote should require a super majority of 10 of the 15 Common Council members to pass.

Committee member Kelly Straniti, however, questioned whether the 10 should be required or just a two-thirds majority of those members present at the time of the vote.

Coffey asked staff attorney Katherine Lasberg to look into whether there are any legal ramifications to a two-thirds vote.

After the meeting, Coffey said he wants the 10-vote requirement, but if he has to settle for a two-thirds vote he would support the proposal.

Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com