New London, Connecticut Mayor Daryl Finizio recently signed an agreement authorizing the construction of a “memorial park” on the former site of Susette Kelo’s “little pink house,” one of the fifteen residential properties condemned by the city as part of a failed development project that led to the Supreme Court’s controversial decision upholding the takings in Kelo v. City of New London (2005):
The vacant parcel of land at the corner of Trumbull and East streets where Suzette Kelo’s little pink house once stood could be set aside as a permanent public park recognizing the residents whose homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood were taken by the city’s use of eminent domain powers more than a decade ago.
In his State of the City address Tuesday evening, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced that he and the Renaissance City Development Association have reached an agreement that would remove Kelo’s former property from consideration for any future development.
“It is my personal hope that this park will serve as a memorial to all those adversely effected by the city’s use of eminent domain,” Finizio said. “I believe that this gesture is significant, although I acknowledge that some will say it is inadequate, as I am sure others will say it is unnecessary altogether.”
The memorandum of agreement reached by Finizio and RCDA President Linda Mariani calls for the city and RCDA to each pay half the cost to have the land surveyed to show it as separate from the larger tract of land it is a part of and to reflect the future completion of previously approved street realignment plans.
Although the land was originally condemned for the purposes of promoting “economic development,” the poorly designed original development plan and a number of later proposals fell through; the condemned property lies empty to this day, used only by feral cats. The case did, however, generate a massive political backlash and resulted in the enactment of eminent domain reform laws in numerous states and the rekindling of a national debate over property rights and takings. I discuss the history of the case and its impact in my forthcoming book on the subject.
The use of the former Kelo property as “a memorial to all those adversely effected by the city’s use of eminent domain” strikes me as very fitting. The other people who were displaced suffered as much or (in some cases) even more than Susette Kelo did, although they did not become as famous. Any memorial should indeed take note of “all those adversely affected.”
Mayor Finizio (who was not in office when the condemnations were adopted and the Kelo case litigated) deserves credit for recognizing the error of the City’s previous ways, and seeking to avoid similar wrongs in the future. But even if this project is more successful than previous plans to use the condemned property, there are still fourteen other condemned lots that will remain empty, as well as a substantial amount of land “voluntarily” purchased from neighborhood residents who were forced to sell by the threat of eminent domain and a variety of pressure tactics. The ultimate fate of those other properties still remains to be determined.