West Haven, Connecticut has always been home for Bob McGinnity. He grew up there and his childhood home remained his base during his time in the U.S. Navy and his career as a conductor for Amtrak. He lives in that home today, enjoying his long-awaited retirement. Bob remodeled the home and his uncle, Michael Perrone, lives in the unit below him. Living so close has been invaluable since his uncle’s recent stroke and heart attack. It allows Bob to help care for his uncle, who gets to stay in his home to recover.
This ideal arrangement, however, is under threat from Bob’s own government. The city of West Haven has teamed up with a private company—The Haven Group, LLC—to build a strip mall along the West Haven waterfront, which would include both Bob’s ad Michael’s homes. Bob and Michael do not want to sell and building around them would require the developer to rearrange only six small stores in the overall complex.
Except there is one problem.
West Haven is in Connecticut, home of Kelo v. New London, the much-reviled 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed government officials to condemn property based on nothing more than a promise to generate more tax revenue. That decision sparked outrage and a nationwide backlash—44 states have passed laws reforming their eminent domain laws to make Kelo-style takings harder and nine state supreme courts have rejected the Kelo decision.
The Kelo case is also notable for what it did not spark: development. Twelve years later, the neighborhood destroyed by New London is a vacant lot populated only by grass, weeds and feral cats.
The lesson of Kelo is clear: Eminent domain abuse hurts property owners, destroys communities and fails to generate the kind of development its proponents promise.
But West Haven officials have taken the opposite lesson from the case. They apparently believe the case means they can take anyone’s property, anytime they want, for any reason. That is not true. The West Haven condemnations are worse than Kelo. Government officials in Kelo wanted to take private property in the hope of realizing their (wrong-headed and fantastical) plans for redevelopment.
But government officials in West Haven did not decide their town needed a strip mall and go looking for someone to build it for them. A private developer decided to build a strip mall and has enlisted the city government to take property on its behalf. Simply put, West Haven is not condemning Bob’s property for a public purpose; it is condemning Bob’s property because a private developer told it to. This is exactly the kind of taking that even the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision singled out as unconstitutional.
That is why Bob and his family have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit against the city of West Haven and its redevelopment arm, the West Haven Redevelopment Agency, to put an end to this abuse of public power for private gain.http://www.ij.org/case/west...