June 2, 2006

Kelo-New London Update: Gov. Clarifies Position; Holdouts React; Pressure May Be on Council; Another Settlement

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:42 pm

Also see Saturday Updates:
- When Is AP Going to Get a Kelo-New London Report Right?
- The Beyers Settle; Positions Harden Ahead of Council Meeting

Status Map:

The image is from Google Earth. It is not current in that, as I understand it, most, if not all, properties except those of the holdouts have been razed.

The property locations superimposed on the map were obtained either from a recent New London Day article (requires registration; will be unavailable without subscription after roughly June 7) or through a property search at the New London Assessor’s online database. Although it is all public information, I have chosen not to reveal exact addresses or to provide a link to the assessor’s office.


Also, I have learned that “Parcel 4A,” which is where the owner-occupied houses are to be moved, is the rectangular area in which Susette Kelo’s house is at the bottom right (red box). As I understand it, if there is a settlement, Kelo’s and other owner-occupied houses would be moved to other spots within that parcel.

Latest Developments

Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell clarified her position (full text of her previous letter is at this prior post) on the situation of the Kelo-New London holdouts today in a follow-up letter to New London’s mayor, according to this press release from The Institute of Justice (IJ) — and she clarified that it’s closer to that of the holdouts (full text of letter is in the Update below):

The owners of family-occupied homes got a much-needed boost today from Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Today, in a follow-up letter to New London Mayor Beth Sabilia, Gov. Rell clarified her previous position, stating that she supports giving deeds back to family-occupied properties, with full inheritance rights and ability to sell the homes. The City would have a right of first refusal if the owner decides to sell, something the homeowners said they support.

In a previous letter of May 31, Gov. Rell wrote that she wants everyone who is not an owner-occupant of Fort Trumbull to leave the neighborhood. ….. That would have made them essentially meaningless pieces of paper and was no different than the “lifetime occupancy” proposed by the city.

“It is great news that the governor has come through and made clear that she supports giving real deeds back to the family-occupied homes, something Susette Kelo and her neighbors have fought for since day one of this battle,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which continues to represent the homeowners. “It is disappointing, though, that the governor does not support the small businesses who are keeping rental homes in Fort Trumbull, and we ask her and the City Council to reconsider that position.”

“Governor Rell has now made her position clear with regard to my home: I should have my deed back,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in Kelo v. New London. “I really hope that the New London City Council now votes in favor of this on Monday.”

Bill Von Winkle (said): “These rental properties represent my family’s livelihood. The government shouldn’t take what’s rightfully mine just to make way for other private owners. I’m glad to see the other homeowners may be protected, and I hope the Governor and the City Council will respect the rights of the small businessman, too.”

Both sides agree that the Kelo and Cristofaro properties are owner-occupied (red and orange items above). Apparently there is a dispute over one of the three Von Winkle properties (the middle one in light blue); the holdouts and IJ contend that the middle property is owner-occupied, while the City Council and the New London Development Corporation do not, because Mr. Von Winkle was not living in it at the time of the taking (though apparently he is living in it now and lived in it for a period of time before the taking).

All in all, it seems that the parties are much closer to a settlement than they were 72 hours ago.

The IJ and Mr. Von Winkle make an excellent point about the disparate treatment of the remaining properties, because it’s clear that there is really no distinction between owner-occupied and rental property in The Constitution (remember that?):

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Constitution doesn’t care whether the “private property” involved is owner-occupied or not. Absent the odious Kelo ruling last June, it wouldn’t matter what the property is used for, just that it’s owned privately.

It’s one thing to say you’re right, but it’s another to get public opinion on your side. The defense of Susette Kelo and the holdouts has relied almost entirely on the emotional image of a homeowner being dragged out of his or her home just ahead of the bulldozers, not of a tenant being told he or she has to find another place to rent. In an ideal/just world, that difference wouldn’t matter, but in this case I think it will. If the holdouts attempt to push for the protection of the rental properties they risk losing it all, as I don’t see the Governor going any further than she has. And “thanks” to the Kelo ruling, as she has made clear already, she doesn’t have to. In fact, we shouldn’t forget that thanks to the Supreme Court ruling she could sit by and watch evictions take place, and to her credit has not.

So assuming that the holdouts don’t demand protection of the rental properties, the pressure on June 5 will be squarely on New London’s City Council to follow through on what the Governor has requested.

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the Governor’s letter today:

Dear Mayor Sabilia:

I want to take this opportunity to clarify two aspects of my May 31, 2006 letter to you and your colleagues on the New London City Council.

First, in my letter I recommended that the City offer to the occupants who have not reached settlements relocation of the occupant’s primary residences (but not investment properties) to an appropriate location on Parcel 4A. I want to be clear that my recommendation was directed to those structures that have been used as familial residences for the past several years on the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

Second, I also recommended that the City provide to the relocated occupants restrictive deeds to the portion of Parcel 4A to which they are to be relocated. The deed restriction should allow the transfer the property by and between an occupant and the occupant’s immediate family members. The deed restrictions should provide the City with a “right of first refusal” at fair market value at the time of sale should the occupant or the occupant’s heir decide to sell or transfer the property to a third party other than an immediate family member.

Please feel free to contact my office should you have any questions.

Very truly yours,

UPDATE 2: New London Councilman Charles Frink, one of the two councilpersons who opposed the “rent for life” arrangement the Council demanded in February and imposed the May 31 deadline over, was quoted in The Day today (requires registration after one day, and paid subscription after seven days) as follows:

Councilor Charles W. Frink continued to call Thursday for returning deeds to the properties to the remaining Fort Trumbull plaintiffs.

“I think that the city has a moral obligation to return those titles,” Frink said. “As a taxpayer in New London, I cannot accept the possibility that I might get some relief in taxes by throwing my neighbors out of their houses. It is a violation of life in a community.”

UPDATE 3, 7:40 PM: Hot off the wires at The New London Day — Another party has settled, and the mayor is resisting part of what the governor wants:

Another Eminent Domain Plaintiff Accepts City’s Offer

Another plaintiff in the Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case has settled, Mayor Beth A. Sabilia said tonight.
“We have another settlement. I will not disclose with whom or at what price,” she said.

The settlement is the third this week.

….. The City Council will address Rell’s proposal at its June 5 meeting, Sabilia said. In a letter to the governor dated today, Mayor Sabilia affirmed the city’s longstanding position that lifetime occupancy on Parcel 4A or financial settlements remain available to the remaining plaintiffs but the city will not return transferable deeds.

“The City Council’s position has been consistent. The deeds of anything more than life-time possession will not return to the former property owner,” Sabilia said in her letter to Rell.

“The proposal outlined in your letter of today is not consistent with the Municipal Development Plan, with the City of New London’s Zoning Regulations, nor with the directives set forth in the State of Connecticut’s financial endorsement of the revitalization of the Ft. Trumbull area,” Sabilia said in the letter.

I don’t understand why “right of first refusal” fails to seal the deal for Ms. Sabilia. It looks like June 5 will be an interesting evening in New London.

UPDATE 4: Here is the full text of Mayor Sabilia’ letter to Governor Rell, which was written AFTER receiving Rell’s SECOND letter today:

Dear Governor Rell:

On behalf of the City Council of New London and the residents of the City of New London, I again extend our sincerest appreciation for your assistance in attempting to mediate the disputes between the occupants of the Ft. Trumbull peninsula and the City of New London. As you are aware, the City of New London and the state’s mediator, Dr. Robert Albright, have been working tirelessly to seek outcomes which are mutually agreeable and consistent with state laws and the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London.

I am in receipt of your May 31, 2006 letter, as well as your letter of earlier today. Please be assured that I will share your recommendations of the May 31, 2006 letter with the City Council at its meeting on June 5, 2006. With respect to your letter of earlier today wherein you write that you seek to clarify your position on your two recommendations, first let me thank you for taking the time to make your position clear. I will certainly share that letter with the City Council as well.

I do appreciate and I agree with your concern that only those properties that have been used as familial residences for the past several years be permitted to relocate to a portion of parcel 4A. At best, only two such properties might exist at Ft. Trumbull. All of the other occupants do not qualify under your proposal.

With respect to your second clarification, I again applaud your efforts to seek an accommodation of the two remaining occupants that may fulfill your first condition. You recommend that the City provide restrictive deeds to those occupants and that said occupants be permitted to transfer, by deed or by devise, the property to immediate family members or to a third party. The restriction, however, would be that the City maintain a right of first refusal and be permitted to purchase the property at fair market value.

To be clear, my proposal to allow the relocated occupants life-time possession would require a deed of that interest to the two occupants. The City Council’s position has been consistent. The deeds of anything more than life-time possession will not return to the former property owner. The proposal outlined in your letter of today is not consistent with the Municipal Development Plan, with the City of New London’s Zoning Regulations, nor with the directives set forth in the State of Connecticut’s financial endorsement of the revitalization of the Ft. Trumbull area.

The United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut, as well as a judge of the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut found that the City of New London has carefully and exactingly followed state and federal law throughout this long and arduous process. We will continue to do so.

It is my firm belief that the City Council’s unwavering commitment to the Municipal Development Plan, together with the generous assistance of your office, will result in settlements with the remaining occupants in the Ft. Trumbull area.

Again, thank you Governor Rell for your assistance. Should you or your staff have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Very truly yours,

Elizabeth A. Sabilia
Mayor of the City of New London


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