Monday, July 11, 2005

Ridgefield to Seize Land for Private Development

Original Owners of Parcel Charge Violation of Fair Housing Act

This time there are no families being displaced. There is no high-profile lawsuit, no precedent to set. There is just a bitter sense of the way things are going to be from now on.

Ridgefield, one of the richest towns in Connecticut, wants to take undeveloped land currently owned by a developer to build private office space. The developer wants to build moderately-priced single-family homes instead, and charges that the town's move is a violation of the Fair Housing Act:

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi sent a letter to Eureka V [the developer] in 2001 offering to buy the land for $2.7 million. He also wrote that if necessary the town would take the property through eminent domain.

Eureka V went to federal court asking for an injunction against an eminent domain move and alleged Ridgefield is violating the federal fair housing law by attempting to prevent Eureka from building houses for people with school-age children. (Tuz)

The last part is interesting, although the land is currently zoned commercial anyway so no houses could be built there. "Houses for people with school-age children" sounds like homes that are ever so slightly lower in price than others in Ridgefield, although it's very hard to tell from that sentence. Ridgefield could be trying to keep the kind of riff-raff who buy $300,000 homes instead of $550,000 homes out, but probably not.

So why does this matter? It's a fight between the town and a developer over an empty lot. If nothing else, this article also provides an excellent example of what I would consider to be "public use":

Ridgefield has taken land from Eureka V once before. In December 2000, the town took 458 acres known as the northern parcel of Bennett's Pond and paid Eureka V $12.2 million. That property was sold to the Department of Environmental Protection and is being maintained as open space. (Tuz)

Maintaining open space is a public use. Private offices are not.

The point is unfortunately moot, for now. We shouldn't expect cash-strapped municipalities to show restraint and good judgement when faced with private developers willing to help add to the grand list. New London certainly isn't. And, with a special session to address eminent domain an increasingly dim possibility, we shouldn't expect things to get better any time soon.

Source
Tuz, Susan. "High court ruling affects Bennett's Pond." Danbury News-Times 10 July, 2005.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a Ridgefield resident so I am certainly aware of the Eureka situation. It is a bit diffrent than New London's actions.

Many years ago (in the 80's) IBM wanted to build on that land their international training and conference center. The people of Ridgefield rejected the plan because of likely heavy helicopter and car traffic. The land was always zoned for commercial use. Some time ago (in the 90's) Eureka V purchased the land from IBM hoping to build a combination of homes and commercial properites (IBM, pissed and Ridgefield, did not offer it to the town). Ridgefield chose not to change the zoning and, fearing a loss in court, proceeded to try to take the land by Eminent Domain. The towns argument is generally sound: Give Eureka fair (if not generous) market price and save the town from a booming school population while also deeding the majority of the acreage as open space. Ridgefield isn't forcing people from their homes, nor are we trying to screw Eureka on the value. We just want our Plan of Development to stand as effective and control the character of our town.

ctkeith said...

Branford is also threatening the use of Eminant domain on a developer.The reason the town gives is to expand its open space and protect the supply pond wetlands but the obvious reason is because the cost of educating the kids in new developments far outweighs the taxes new homes generate.

Bethlehem is also buying undeveloped land to stop housing for the same reason.

The use of eminant domain will explode not because of towns giving property to "private concerns" but because the cost of the services to (mostly Educating their kids) new homeowners are not covered by the property taxes they generate.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this isn't on topic here, but has anyone else read the Hartford Courant column from this weekend. It connects Mayor DeStefano to a Republican Lobbyist and former State Chair. Here is the link to the article: http://www.courant.com/news/local/northeast/columnists/hc-rennie0710.artjul10,0,4263543.column?coll=hc-utility-local-northeast

I'd love to hear a little more about this situation if anyone has any information

Genghis Conn said...

Anonymous,

Huh. I'm starting an open forum, go ahead and repost the article link there.

FrankS said...

This dispute sounds more like the developer is attempting to use the zoning exception for state's affordable housing law to blackmail the town into paying more that the fair market commercial value they offered. I mean the residentual value of 50-70 homes at say $300,000 is $15-21 million, far below the $2.7 million commercial value the town offers.

As a 2001 dispute, that has been awaiting the New London decision, the town's position is clearly stronger now. Hopefully they will keep it as open space and not develop the property.

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