Legislators hesitant to ban eminent domain: New Haven CT Register, 4/11/07

By Gregory B. Hladky

Legislation to ban cities and towns from taking private homes to make way for for-profit development was killed by a [Connecticut] General Assembly committee on a 22-21 vote Tuesday.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted instead for a milder version that would place new restrictions on the use of eminent domain, but allow private homes to be taken with the two-thirds approval of the local legislative body.

Lawmakers on the committee voted 38-5 to send the less strict eminent domain measure to the Senate for action.

Public concern about the use of eminent domain powers came to a head more than a year ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a controversial New London case. The high court decision said municipalities are not prohibited from taking private homes for commercial development to increase local tax revenue.

But Connecticut lawmakers have been reluctant to approve the kinds of controls adopted in other states to prohibit taking of private property for commercial development projects.

The panel’s Senate chairman, Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, argued that an outright prohibition on taking private homes for commercial development would be too restrictive for many municipalities.

McDonald said the proposed ban could be manipulated by commercial competitors, who might buy up homes or condos in a neighborhood "for the purpose of thwarting" a proposed economic development project.

"People do some bizarre things when their economic interests are at stake," McDonald said.

According to McDonald, the plan was also flawed because it was restricted to owner-occupied housing of four units or less and didn’t solve issues relating to longtime renters.

McDonald said the legislation the committee approved would make it clear that a municipality couldn’t take a private home only to increase local tax revenue through commercial development.

But supporters of the stronger legislation insisted absolute restrictions are needed.

"This issue doesn’t have to be that complicated," said Deputy Senate Minority Leader David J. Cappiello, R-Danbury. He said Connecticut should have a law stating that, "If you own private property, the government can’t take it away from you unless there is an absolute government need."

Even advocates of stronger eminent domain restrictions agree that the state and municipalities should have the right to take property if it is to be used for a strictly public purpose, such as roads or schools.

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