Land lock

"Land lock" Continued...

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

Kelo, the Dery family, and others joined the fight. In December 2000, they sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that NLDC's use of eminent domain for a private project violated the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which says the government can't take private property for public use without just compensation. NLDC was a private corporation, they pointed out, and it was building not roads or schools but private buildings. (Plans varied from a fitness club to a hotel and finally townhouses and apartments.) New London argued that using land for economic development constituted a public use.

In March 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against Kelo and the Cristofaros, saying the Constitution allows the government to use eminent domain for economic development that will increase tax revenue and improve the economy. In July, the petitioners took it to the Supreme Court and on June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled against them. Kelo was shocked: "We always thought we were going to win. Every time we said something, we did something, we thought it was going to be the end." She was also angry: "I was pretty mad, yeah. I'm still pretty mad."

After the Supreme Court decided against them, contract negotiations dragged on. Kelo asked that the city let her pick up her home and move it. The Cristofaros negotiated a contract that protected Pasquale's garden and allowed them to put up a plaque commemorating Margherita, who died five years ago.

A year ago in March-"they showed up on the coldest, rainiest day that they possibly could," said Cristofaro-the city finally tore down the Cristofaros' home. Despite the contract, they destroyed Pasquale's garden with its 45-year-old plants, and Cristofaro says they are quibbling over the wording for Margherita's plaque.

Today, all that's left of Fort Trumbull is a mound of dirt on an empty acre of weeds. A stairway of broken bricks leads to Kelo's house, now a trash-filled hole surrounded by a railway with chipping white paint. A rusty chair sits where the porch used to overlook the waterfront view. Next door, plywood covers the windows of empty houses with the words "Private Property-No Trespassing" scrawled across.

"The first time I came back I literally cried," Cristofaro said. "The second time it still hurt." Cristofaro is now moving from the town his family has called home for as long as they've lived in America: "I can't see New London as my home anymore. They've taken two homes away from my family." Kelo has moved, too, and says she'll never visit Fort Trumbull.

Kelo credits the homeowners for Fort Trumbull's empty field: "No developer wanted to come within a hundred miles of New London once we started making the racket we were making." When she met with developers before the fight began, she warned them, "'If you try to take my property from me, the whole world's gonna know.' They laughed at me. Let me tell you, in 2007 they were no longer laughing, and the whole world does know."


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