More Council Input in Use of Eminent Domain Sought: Norwalk CT Citizen-News, 1/11/07

By Lauren Garrison

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is seeking to modify the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan to provide the Common Council with increased input into the use of the power of eminent domain, according to a press release issued Jan. 4.

If the council approves the request, the NRA will be required to have any acquisitions of private property under eminent domain first approved by the council. This would effectively reverse the council's previous approval in 2004 of "the immediate use by the Agency of Eminent Domain to implement [the Wall Street plan]" and "void the potentially slated to be acquired list contained within the plan and all timelines associated with such takings," according to the release.

The release notes that the Wall Street plan originally included a list of 28 properties potentially slated for acquisition.

At a Jan. 4 press conference, NRA Executive Director Tim Sheehan explained, "When the council previously approved the plan, they provided the agency with the immediate power of the use of eminent domain with regards to 28 properties within the plan area. That was basically having a list presented to the council that identified those properties, which is consistent with the state statute [for eminent domain], but it doesn't necessarily allow the council to fully become engaged in the understanding of the need for each individual taking as it relates to the project and the public purpose associated with the overall taking that are being proposed."

Sheehan noted that in the past year "the public dialogue surrounding the issue of eminent domain has changed dramatically since the time that the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan was approved by the Common Council."

"The public power of eminent domain is an enormous public power, and at this particular period in the evolution of redevelopment, we are very cognizant of the fact that a consensus needs to be established between the legislative body that conveys the power of eminent domain and the Redevelopment Agency, which is the implementing entity for eminent domain use," Sheehan said. "There needs to be consensus and understanding on both sides of that equation, and this is a recognition of that on the part of the agency. We look forward to working with the council as these plans come forward."

Under the NRA's suggested procedure, the list of properties slated to be acquired would be taken before the council at the same time as the land disposition agreement to give "an adequate period of time for the developer and the property owners to exhaust negotiations for friendly acquisition of property," said Sheehan. "It also gives the developer, the agency and the property owner an opportunity to understand the essential nature of each and every property that's coming forward."

Sheehan said this change would serve to align the Wall Street plan with procedures previously outlined for the West Avenue Redevelopment Plan "so both of those would be consistent." He also noted that there would be no use of eminent domain in the Reed-Putnam Redevelopment Plan.

Also at the press conference, Mayor Richard Moccia stated, "I think it's important that the public knows, the business community knows and everybody knows that eminent domain is the last resort, not the first resort, and that it will be used judiciously and controlled by a body of elected officials."

Council President Michael Coffey, D-At Large, who was unable to attend the conference, is quoted in the press release as saying that the changes would "ensure that there was no abuse of the power conveyed to the agency and should heighten the council's attention when matters conveying such power come before them. Further, it will inhibit the prospect of the Redevelopment Agency and/or developers in overreaching with regards to what property is truly essential to accomplish the objectives stated in the redevelopment plans as approved by the council."

Norwalk CT Citizen-News: http://www.norwalkcitizen-news.com