Public Interest or Private Greed?

This relatively unassuming pink house would be just that, if it weren’t the relatively unassuming pink house that belonged to a woman name Susette Kelo, and if this relatively unassuming house didn’t used to be located in the middle of a specific tract of land in New London, Connecticut.  But it is – and because it is, this house is now famous.

This house, in fact, has a distinct history recorded in the transcripts of the United States Supreme Court… where it lost the land on which it originally sat.  The story unfolds like this.

  • New London officials identify a community known as Fort Trumbell and create the New London Development Corporation (now defunct) to acquire a 9 acre portion of the land for economic development.  Their goal – to find a developer to transform the area into an urban village development, attracting shoppers and tourists.
  • New London lures Pfizer to build a new headquarters and office complex immediately adjacent on 26 acres
  • With an agreement that it would pay just one-fifth of its property taxes for the first 10 years, Pfizer spends $294 million on a 750,000-square-foot complex that opened in 2001.
  • New London, unable to complete the acquisition of the nine acres, takes it by eminant domain, claiming public interest in job creation and economic development.
  • The case is pushed all the way to the US Supreme Court, where a 5-4 decision for New London is passed.
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, in the dissenting opinion, states, “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”
  • She further argued that the decision eliminates “any distinction between private and public use of property — and thereby effectively delete[s] the words ‘for public use’ from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”

So the home owners continued to pursue the defense of their ownership rights, and the city officials finally agreed to pay a settlement to each, and the little pink house got moved to a lot downtown.  Of course, along the way, city officials mentioned that the owners actually owed the city tens of thousands of dollars in back rent for their occupancy since the takings process had begun, but that was thrown out.

In the end, the developer that was to create the new village failed to get his financing, and today, there is a barren lot where a little pink house used to stand.

Pfizer has pulled out after only 8 years, taking 1,400 jobs with them and relocating to a complex they own in nearby Grotten, CT in what they call a “cost saving measure.”  They leave behind what is now New London’s largest vacant building, located next to a 9 acre swath of land that, while undeveloped, has cost the taxpayers $78 million dollars to clear.

At least Pfizer will be familiar with one of their new neighbors in Grotten.  It is also the home of one Susette Kelo.  She used to live in a little, unassuming pink house.

While many states created additional state level protections following the 2005 Kelo Decision by the US Supreme Court, this decision is still prominant in blurring the lines between “public use” and “private interest”.  While Connecticut may seem thousands of miles away, it is decisions like this that concern us as rights holders and property owners in Idaho.

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