Strength of Griswold eminent domain rule questioned: Norwich CT Bulletin, 6/15/07

By Julie A Varughese

At a special [Griswold CT] town meeting Tuesday, residents approved an ordinance, 15-3, designed to protect private property from being usurped by the municipal government for economic development.

Residents who spoke against the ordinance were concerned about its ability to protect property owners adequately and provide fair compensation when land is taken.

"I think this is weak," said Norman Higgins, who voted against the ordinance. "When we all go to sell our property, we ask for a greater price."

The ordinance stipulates the owner of residential, vacant, industrial or commercial property will be compensated at 125 percent of the appraised value, which would be calculated by a certified appraiser.

Resident Ron Ward said that amount could be negotiated, or it would be battled through the court system if a property owner is not satisfied with an offer.

Resident Harry Hansen asked if the town could sell usurped private property to a private entity.

Selectman Bill Stetson said he didn't know.

The ordinance was drafted in response to the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision in 2005, which ruled a government could transfer private property from one owner to another for economic development.

In New London's case, the Fort Trumbull neighborhood will be eliminated to build condominiums, a hotel and offices.

The decision upset property owners and politicians throughout the state and nation, and several towns in Eastern Connecticut looked into drafting ordinances protecting property owners. Griswold selectmen looked at these ordinances for guidance when drafting their own.

Stetson and First Selectman Anne Hatfield said the town's ordinance can provide more protection for property owners than a state law.

The ordinance does not limit the town's right to use eminent domain for public purposes, such as construction of sewers, highways, sidewalks, rights of way, flood and erosion control, or for any other transaction where the property rights acquired will be held or controlled by the town.

Resident Ron Ward spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying it is only meant to be taken as a policy stance, and it may really not provide much protection at all.

"We do not have the ability in the town of Griswold to control what the state wants to do," Ward said. "We just have to take what comes down the way."

He speculated before any decision is made on a case of eminent domain, public hearings likely would be held.

Norwich CT Bulletin: http://www.norwichbulletin.com