Saturday, June 25, 2005

New London residents vow to defy SCOTUS ruling

We here at CDP wish these noble subjects citizens of New London, CT the best of luck. They're going to need lots of it.
Some Homeowners Vow To Stay Despite Ruling Against Them
But few options seem available

New London — Drive by Michael Cristofaro's home at 50 Denison Ave. tomorrow; he promises you'll see this sign: FOR SALE.

“I'm out of here. I'm selling my home,” Cristofaro, a New London resident for 43 years, said Thursday. “I'm a white-collar worker, a computer engineer. Who do they want living in this town?”

The Cristofaro family owns a second home, at 53 Goshen St., in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the city's right to take that home, and the homes of six other property owners, by eminent domain.

The decision came as no surprise to those fighting to save their homes.

“I sort of figured it would go that way,” said Byron Athenian, who lives at what used to be 78 Smith St. before the street in front of his house was demolished. “That's the way the government works.”

But there was anger nonetheless.

“Those justices made the wrong decision,” Cristofaro said. “Four of them protected our property rights; five threw them out the door. I hope their property is chosen next for eminent domain so they know what it's like to be thrown out into the street.”

And even though, after six years of fighting the city, the group seemed to have run low on options, several promised that they would never leave.

“I'm not going anywhere. I'm here,” said William von Winkle, who owns three buildings on what remains of Smith Street. “I'm going to fight until they give up. They can do their little development around here with us here or they can do no development and try to take it, because until they stop trying to take my property by eminent domain, they will not build anything at Fort Trumbull. It's simple as that.”

“I don't know how they're going to get us out,” Cristofaro agreed. “We're going to keep our homes to the bitter end, because what they've done is wrong.”

And they warned every citizen of New London and the nation at large that the court's ruling stripped them of their right to own private property.

“One of the most fundamental rights that the country was built upon has been pretty much obliterated,” said Scott Sawyer, a lawyer who represented the homeowners. “Owning property doesn't seem to amount to much in the United States anymore. Certainly, none of us own our property anymore.”

Richard Beyer, a plaintiff who owns two homes at 41 and 49 Goshen St., agreed.

“We've pretty much lost our right to have private property,” he said. “Everybody that owns homes, their homes are at risk for eminent domain.”

And that, said Beyer, Cristofaro and von Winkle, now translates into giving the land of small property owners to big corporations.

“As one gentleman that I just got off the phone with said, ‘Welcome to Russia,' ” Beyer said. “So it's scary. I just feel bad for my kids when they get to be my age and own their own home. They don't own it. Either the bank owns it or a private corporation's going to own it.”

The homeowners predicted that more land in the city would end up in the hands of private corporations.

“I guarantee you that just about every house from Howard Street to Shaw's Cove is going to be targeted,” Beyer said. “I see that whole district in New London as being Pfizer's business park. It'll be like Avery Point minus the houses. You'll have access to Fort Trumbull State Park and that'll be it.”

Beyer, who with a partner had renovated one of his two houses and was working on the second when the city took them, said one bitter lesson he had learned was never again to do business in New London.

And he pointed out the city has never delivered on its promise that Pfizer's arrival in the city would mean lower taxes.

“The city of New London promised all the residents of New London that all your property taxes will be reduced,” he said. “That promise was never fulfilled. The taxes keep going up ... When is enough enough?”

And who, several asked, would want to build in the Fort Trumbull area now?

“They're taking the properties for an obsolete plan,” von Winkle said. “Today, who would build a hotel in New London, Connecticut? And they certainly wouldn't build an office building. We have half the city empty now. So what are they taking it for?”

For Cristofaro, the home at 53 Goshen St. is the second the city has taken from his family by eminent domain. The city took the first house, on Woodbridge Street near Shaw's Cove, in 1972.

It was a home, Cristofaro said, that his father had lovingly surrounded with fruit trees, grapevines, yews and rhododendrons.

Today it is a parking lot.

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