In 2005 the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London upheld the actions of the City of New London, Connecticut (the “City”) in forming a non-profit corporation to redevelop the Fort Trumbull area of the City. In order to capitalize on Pfizer, Inc.’s (“Pfizer”) private development of an adjacent research facility, the New London Development Corporation prepared a detailed development plan which included 115 privately held parcels. The Supreme Court upheld the City’s right to take the privately held properties in order to complete its development plan.
Although the 5 to 4 decision was in line with a long history of Fifth Amendment eminent domain cases, it ignited a backlash throughout the country. 42 states enacted legislation placing further restrictions on the use of eminent domain for economic development. In Ohio, the Ohio Supreme Court held in Norwood v. Horney that the use of eminent domain merely for economic benefit violated the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio legislature also amended Ohio’s eminent domain law to make the “slum” and “blight” standards more stringent. Horney and the legislative changes tie the hands of government and swing the Kelo pendulum too far to the side of private property owners.
Although tax credits given to Pfizer were not a part of the Kelo litigation, Pfizer’s announcement last week that it would pull out of its research facility when its partial tax abatement ends re-ignited the discussion on Kelo. Those opposed to a public entity’s right to take property for private economic development point to the fact that, not only was the City’s plan never enacted, leaving the Fort Trumbull area vacant, but now Pfizer is leaving and taking over a thousand jobs with it.
However, in urban areas, it is often impossible to complete any project of scale without involving private property owners. Often times these private property owners are able to hold an entire project hostage by demanding excessive values for their properties. Although the development in New London never came to pass, other developments which have civic value should not be permitted to die on the vine due to the self-interest of one property owner.