Give Susette Kelo Her Land Back

Here’s the rub. Thirteen years after the Kelo decision, after all the condemning and evicting and bulldozing, nothing has been built on the land that was taken. Basically, an entire neighborhood was erased in vain. Meantime, all those vacant lots have become New London’s scarlet letter….
A Handbook for Ranch Managers Will we ever get enough? Probably not. It’s what the feminization of the American male has been about all along. — jtl, 419
Former site of Susette Kelo's house. May 2014. Photo by Ilya Somin.
Former site of Susette Kelo’s house. May 2014. Photo by Ilya Somin. 

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual   Jeff Benedict is a prominent reporter and author of Little Pink House, an excellent journalistic account of the events leading up to Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision in which the justices ruled that it is permissible for the government to take homes and other property in order to transfer it to new private owners for purposes of promoting “economic development.” His book was recently made into a powerful movie about the case (which I reviewed here). In a recent op ed in The Day (the local paper in New London, the city where the Kelo takings occurred), Benedict proposes that New London return at least some of the land taken from Susette Kelo and her neighbors to the original owners:

It was 20 years ago this month that the City Council authorized the New London Development Corporation to prepare a plan to acquire and redevelop 90 acres on the Fort Trumbull peninsula where the Thames River joins Long Island Sound….

But after acquiring nearly all of the targeted 90 acres, the city and the NLDC took an all-or-nothing approach to the few remaining lots owned by Susette Kelo, where sat her little pink house, and six neighbors. The prospect of jobs and increased tax revenues, the city argued, were “public benefits” worthy of using eminent domain.

In June 2005, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

Here’s the rub. Thirteen years after the Kelo decision, after all the condemning and evicting and bulldozing, nothing has been built on the land that was taken. Basically, an entire neighborhood was erased in vain. Meantime, all those vacant lots have become New London’s scarlet letter….

Thirteen years of inertia is long enough. For the sake of all parties – the city, the state, and the residents who were displaced – it’s time to turn the page and write an epilogue with a far more redeeming outcome…

A good starting point might be to allow the marketplace to decide what makes sense for the barren land that remains rather than trying to continue driving this redevelopment effort from city hall….

But before the city can expect to attract developers and investors with the wherewithal to transform the peninsula, the city must first shed its scarlet letter. The best place to start is by carving out seven contiguous residential building lots – perhaps right along East Street where the pink house once stood – and offering to convey them to Susette Kelo and her six evicted neighbors. The current mayor and City Council are not responsible for the mistakes of the past. But they have the chance to be game changers by formally apologizing and reconciling with the city’s displaced residents.

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian ViewAs Benedict points out, the development plan that led to the Kelo takings fell through, and the land remains essentially empty to this day. It would be wrong to say that the property is completely unused. As I described in The Grasping Hand, my own book about the case (which focuses more on the legal and policy issues than Benedict’s), a colony of feral cats have taken up residence on the site. Some enterprising locals have built little cat shelters for them.

Improvised feral cat shelter near the former site of Susette Kelo's house. May 2014. Photo by Ilya Somin.

Improvised feral cat shelter near the former site of Susette Kelo’s house. May 2014. Photo by Ilya Somin. 

Though it might discomfit the feral cats, Benedict’s proposal has much to recommend it. As he explains, it could help effect reconciliation between the city and displaced residents, and potentially make it possible to finally find a productive use for the condemned property.

Reconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps Institute In the course of conducting research for my book, I interviewed Susette Kelo and other homeowners displaced by the Kelo takings. Most were still very angry about their mistreatment by the City and the New London Development Corporation – not just because of the ultimate outcome of the case, but also because of the extensive harassment they were subjected to in order to get them to sell their land “voluntarily.” The compensation they eventually received was not enough to offset suffering endured over a period of several years.

The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits Many of the displaced former residents still live in the region. Benedict reports that Susette Kelo is open to potentially moving back to New London if the City were to return the site of her famous “little pink house,” which became a nationally known symbol of the case. I do not know if this is true of the other plaintiffs in the case. But I think many might at least appreciate the conciliatory gesture Benedict advocates. Even if the displaced owners chose not to return after getting their land back, they could potentially sell it to developers or other businesses who could build new homes on the site or find some other productive use for it. At the very least, the outcome is likely to be better than the experience of the last thirteen years, during which this attractive and potentially valuable land has largely gone to waste.

Combat Shooter's HandbookWhile the Kelo takings were a tragedy for the City of New London and the displaced homeowners, the massive backlash generated by the Supreme Court decision did lead to valuable – even if incomplete – reforms in many states. It also broke the seeming consensus in favor of a broad view of “public use,” under which most lawyers and judges believed the Constitution allows the government to take property for almost any reason it wants. Several state supreme courts have repudiated Kelo as a guide to the interpretation of their state constitutions’ public use clauses, thereby providing stronger protection for property rights than currently mandated by the federal courts’ interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court might well overrule or limit Kelo in a future decision.

In the meantime, Benedict’s proposal can potentially help the participants in the case find some closure, and allow the city to move forward. We can also hope that other communities seeking to promote development will learn from New London’s experience, and come to understand that the better way to increase economic growth is to respect property rights and work with local residents, rather than forcibly displacing them.

 

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You might also be interested in the supplement to this Handbook: Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual.

About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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5 Responses to Give Susette Kelo Her Land Back

  1. Reblogged this on Flyover-Press.com and commented:

    Will we ever get enough? Probably not. It’s what the feminization of the American male has been about all along. — jtl, 419

    Like

  2. tulibreeder says:

    Eminent Domain should never be used other than for land needed for essential state needs such as a military barrack, airfield etc, never for commercial uses.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It just goes to show you that private property no longer exists. You can live on the regime’s land as long as you pay your yearly rent (property tax) and as long as they have no compelling national need” , for it. If they want it for any reason then you are gone no matter whose name is on the deed!

    Liked by 1 person

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