Eminent domain possible for West Haven holdouts

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Ten years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New London, to use eminent domain, because they said economic development was considered “public use,” according to the fifth amendment of the Constitution. City officials in West Haven said eminent domain is a last resort, but could be used, since nine property owners are refusing to sell, as plans for an upscale shopping mall along the shoreline.

“It’s up to the property owners whether they would like to reach an agreement with the developer,” said Brooke Fallon, with the Institute for Justice. “They are owners of that property.”

Nine properties, including a mix of homes and businesses, are holding out selling to the developers. Fallon said West Haven’s municipal building language states that eminent domain can be applied for projects deemed to benefit the public at large. Opponents said government should back off.

“We’ve seen this across the country, that governments try to abuse that power and used it to seize private property, people’s homes and businesses to build private development,” Fallon said.

West Haven’s mayor said the project would bring in huge tax benefits, yielding tax returns estimated at over $3 million per year, compared to a mere $150,000, that the area now provides city coffers.

“West Haven is very much in favor of this project,” said Mayor Ed O’Brien. “Something we have to move forward for the betterment of the city.”

O’Brien said the mix of shops, restaurants and a shoreline walkway will open up the waterfront to the public for the first time in a century. He wants to see the last property owners accept the deal, to avoid a potential eminent domain showdown.

“I believe they’re offering 125 percent at least of fair market value, plus relocation costs,” O’Brien said. “I believe they’ve been fair to residents in that area.”

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