Losers in property case hang on

High court said Conn. city could evict them, but so far it hasn't

November 21, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- They have still not moved out. Not Susette Kelo. Not the Derys. Not Byron Athenian or Bill Von Winkle or the others.

Five months after the U.S. Supreme Court set off a national debate by ruling that the city of New London could seize their property through eminent domain to make way for new private development, no one has been forced to leave.

Even though the holdouts lost their case, and the development that would displace them seems free to go forward, construction has not begun, and some elements of the project have been effectively paralyzed since the court ruling prompted a political outcry.

"I felt relaxed enough to get my checkbook out and put the new roof on," said Von Winkle, who owns three buildings with a total of 12 occupied apartments in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood by the Thames River, where the city was sued for claiming 15 properties through eminent domain.

Kelo, also among the handful of holdouts, said, "We still have hope that we'll get to keep our homes."

It is not that Kelo and the others have chained themselves to their property in a final defiance of the law.

Instead, wary of public disapproval and challenges from groups such as the Institute for Justice, the law firm that represented the holdouts in court, the state and the city have halted plans to evict the remaining residents.

"Winning took so long," said Mayor Jane L. Glover, "that the plan may not be as viable in 2005 or 2006 or 2007."

The court battle over eminent domain started five years ago, when the city claimed the property of six Fort Trumbull homeowners, a two-block area within 90 acres set for development. Homeowners challenged the move, and the matter eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled, 5-4, in June that the city had the right to take the land to improve its financial health, even though doing so would eventually transfer the property to a private developer.

But in a dissent that echoed what property rights activists were saying, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory."

Congress and state legislatures across the country have reacted by revisiting eminent domain laws. This month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the court decision.

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