The impetus for one of the most infamous eminent domain cases in U.S. history was the City of New London, Connecticut's efforts to utilize a massive Pfizer plant as the basis to revitalize the surrounding area. (The common myth that Pfizer was itself the intended beneficiary of the Kelo property is not correct.)
The decision, Kelo v. City of New London, triggered a nationwide backlash against eminent domain when the Supreme Court ruled that economic growth, by itself, qualifies as a public purpose sufficient to satisy the right to take property by eminent domain.
The tale of what followed around the county has been well documented. Many states passed eminent domain reform in the wake of the Kelo decision. Less well known is the story of what happend to the "little pink house" at the center of the controversy. Recently, we reported that the area has not been revitilized as the City of New London imagined.
Now, another turn of events suggests the revitiliztion may be nothing more than a pipe dream. Today, Pfizer announced that it is shutting down its 1,400-employee New London facility, creating real doubt that new development is anywhere on the horizon. In short, leaving aside the debate about the wisdom of the Supreme Court ruling, the Kelo story and its aftermath certainly doesn't seem headed for a happy ending any time soon.
As reported by Timothy P. Carney, a columnist for the Washington Examiner, in his November 9 story "Pfizer abandons site of infamous Kelo eminent domain taking":
The private homes that New London, Conn., took away from Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have been torn down. Their former site is a wasteland of fields of weeds, a monument to the power of eminent domain.
But now Pfizer, the drug company whose neighboring research facility had been the original cause of the homes' seizure, has just announced that it is closing up shop in New London.
Pfizer Inc. will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday.
In the end, while the owners have all been paid for property they never wanted to sell, the City has not realized the economic windfall it had in mind when it started down this path a decade ago. Thus, even if the Supreme Court it right -- and economic development justifies eminent domain -- the public benefit may still be a long way off for residents of New London. Indeed, with the Pfizer plant's closure, things may well get worse before they get better.
Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues. His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes. His public ...
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