Lawmakers argue for eminent domain protection: New Haven CT Register, 3/24/07

By Gregory B. Hladky

Connecticut should follow the lead of 30 other states that have already acted to protect private homes from seizure by eminent domain for the purpose of commercial development, lawmakers were told Friday.

The General Assembly’s failure to act on this issue has "been something of a black mark against this legislature," said state House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

"We as a legislature have failed our citizenry," Cafero said during his testimony before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, supporting a bill to restrict municipal and state authority to take private property.

Many municipal leaders, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., have warned against placing too many restrictions on use of eminent domain. They argue that forbidding the taking of private homes for private development could preclude any real urban redevelopment projects.

The legislature’s Planning and Development Committee Friday also approved a bill providing more protections for property owners, but which falls short of prohibiting taking of private homes in connection with for-profit developments.

State Rep. Joseph Serra, D-Middletown, said there should be some mechanism for state or municipal action when a "small piece of private property stands in the way of a major development."

Cafero said it’s been 640 days since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision in a controversial New London case, ruling that there is no federal prohibition against the use of eminent domain to take private homes to make way for a massive for-profit project.

That decision created nationwide concern about the potential for abuse of eminent domain powers and a series of actions in various state legislatures.

The co-chairman of the judiciary panel, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, said he is "optimistic something is actually going to take place" this year on the issue of eminent domain.

Lawlor said local New London officials fumbled badly in their attempts to acquire private homes to make way for a development project that is scheduled to include a hotel, high-end housing and office space. The planned New London project is adjacent to the Pfizer Inc. complex.

"I can’t imagine they could have handled it any worse," Lawlor said of the efforts of the New London development officials.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said he would support even broader restrictions on eminent domain than are now being proposed with regard to private residences of four units or less.

"Taking a private business for a private purpose … I think that should be prohibited," Meyer said.

Carl Yacobacci, a businessman from Derby, testified in support of protections for small businesses. He said any eminent domain bill "should include commercial property … so we can be protected."

New Haven CT Register: http://www.nhregister.com