November 21, 2005

Kelo Update 1 for Nov. 21: As New London Turns–Institute for Justice Letter Writer Strikes Back

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:39 am

Go here for Nov. 21 Update 2 on The New York Times article.

I expect with the holiday season upon us, and the turnover in both bodies, that the New London Council and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) won’t be up to much in the way of mischief between now and the beginning of 2006. But I (and Google News mail alerts) will be watching in case I’m wrong.

In the meantime, the war of words continues.

I didn’t think much of the letter from Peter Costas a week or so ago that appeared in The New London Day (link is to a blog that copied the letter), because he’s not from New London, and he seemed to misstate the facts so wildly that I figured it was best to ignore him. In fact, the letter seemed so “out there” that I didn’t finish reading it.

But Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice (The Institute is the public interest law firm that is representing the Kelo property owners) did read the whole thing, and I can see why he thought it important to respond. And did he ever (link requires registration and will be unavailable in about a week; bolds are mine):

One would think that a former president of the Connecticut Bar Association, Peter L. Costas, would be a bit more careful with his own facts before seeking to address supposed “myths” surrounding the Fort Trumbull project and to personally attack residents living in the neighborhood. (“Dispelling the Myths of the Fort Trumbull Project,” Nov. 6,). But Mr. Costas is the latest in a long line of defenders of eminent domain abuse who think it is better to engage in ad hominem arguments rather than to honestly address the failures of the Fort Trumbull project.

….. To Mr. Costas, public outcry about this case has been whipped up by my organization, the Institute for Justice, and, if only New London residents got the facts, they would support what happened there.

The problem with this position is that New London citizens and the vast majority of the rest of the country do, in fact, get it. They understand that it is wrong to take property from one private owner to hand it over to another private owner simply because a city like New London thinks that the new owners will put the property to more “productive” use. That is why Kelo v. New London is perhaps the most universally despised Supreme Court decision in recent memory.

….. I will respond only to some of his more outrageous allegations.

Costas ….. trots out the tired old canard that the Fort Trumbull residents are holding up development in the peninsula. Nonsense. The residents own a total of 1.54 acres of land in a 90-acre area and never opposed development on parcels owned by the NLDC. Everyone admits that you can do development in that area and keep the folks there. The fact that the NLDC has never seriously pursued this option is one of the great travesties of this whole controversy. It would have saved years of litigation and expense. And, contrary to Mr. Costas, the municipal development plan would not have to be changed to accomplish this result. The plan itself calls for residences, and numerous changes have been made to it over the years without requiring the process to start anew. Indeed, the NLDC decided to keep the Italian Dramatic Club even though the plan does not call for a private social club in the area and the process did not have to start again.

Costas’ claim that the Fort Trumbull residents have been treated well throughout this whole affair is laughable. Just about everyone except the recently departed NLDC head, David Goebel, admits that the residents there were treated abysmally. I hope Mr. Costas is never threatened with the loss of his home for private development and then has to wage a multi-year battle against huge odds to try to save it. If he did, maybe then he might begin to understand what the residents of Fort Trumbull, both past and present, have gone through.

What is perhaps most outrageous in Mr. Costas’ article is his personal attacks on the property owners ….. he claims that most of the plaintiffs are landlords. Completely false.

Susette Kelo has lived in her home since she bought it in 1997 …..The Derys have lived in their homes for more than 100 years. Bill Von Winkle lives in one of the homes he owns in the Fort Trumbull area and rents out the others, which he renovated himself. The Gurteskys, until a recent family move, had lived in the Fort since the 1980s. Byron Athenian’s home is technically in his mother’s name but he is also a longtime resident of the Fort and always paid the mortgage and other expenses on the home. Members of the Cristofaro family have consistently lived in their family home since the 1970s. Only Rich Beyer, who owns two rental homes, does not live in the Fort. But he lovingly restored one of the old Victorians by hand and would like to do the same for the other one.

….. Mr. Costas then proceeds to falsely claim that the residents have been getting a free ride throughout this process by being able to keep any rents they collect and by not having to pay occupancy fees. What he fails to mention is that the terms by which the owners could stay in their homes was governed by an explicit court-sanctioned agreement among the parties in this case. The city and NLDC got several things in the agreement, including a very expedited trial schedule. In return, the residents would not be required to pay occupancy fee or rents to the NLDC. (Incidently, the rents supposedly collected by the property owners in this case are grossly exaggerated.) Again, this stipulation was agreed to by all parties and subsequently extended by the courts throughout this entire process. For Costas not to mention that this was agreed to by the parties and to instead imply that the residents were somehow underhanded is revolting. The one thing for which the property owners throughout this process were not responsible under the court agreement was the payment of taxes, due to the fact that the title to the properties have been in the hands of the NLDC since 2000. Nevertheless, several of the property owners still paid taxes throughout much of the time of this litigation because they did not want to give any sanction to the notion that the NLDC owned their homes. Mr. Costas failed to mention this inconvenient fact.

….. It’s time to end the attacks on the Fort Trumbull residents and for the NLDC to start developing on land that would not require removing people from their homes.

If nothing else, Mr. Costas’s original letter should disabuse anyone of the notion that there aren’t plenty of people, including lots of attorneys who should know better, who would be perfectly content to see the Kelo ruling stay in place as is.

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  1. Aren’t the residents also paying local taxes to pay for their opposition’s litigation costs?

    Comment by NYU Jew — November 21, 2005 @ 2:45 pm

  2. #1, from 2nd last para above: “Nevertheless, several of the property owners still paid taxes throughout much of the time of this litigation because they did not want to give any sanction to the notion that the NLDC owned their homes. Mr. Costas failed to mention this inconvenient fact.”

    Answer: Yes.

    Comment by TBlumer — November 21, 2005 @ 3:47 pm

  3. What if property taxes were declared unconstitutional? No property taxes – no need to use eminent domain to hand your property over to a richer person.

    Comment by Bob — November 25, 2005 @ 10:09 pm

  4. #3, If prop taxes are illegal I don’t see how that would solve anything.

    The person who wants the land wants it because he can make money. He gets the local government to help him do it. The local government could do it for more local revenue (don’t forget about sales taxes that get collected in a new retail development), or just do it as a favor in the name of a “better community.”

    Comment by TBlumer — November 25, 2005 @ 10:17 pm

  5. Do you feel sexy? Are you confidently, an active person, self righteously?

    Comment by weight loss — January 3, 2006 @ 10:11 pm

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