Monday, September 19, 2005

NLDC Taking on Water

Development Corporation Losing Support on New London City Council

The New London Development Corporation was supposed to save New London. Instead, it may leave the city much worse off than it found it... and it may leave soon. Tonight, the city council of New London will hold a vote of no confidence in the the NLDC's leadership.

City officials have said that the Fort Trumbull development can not go forward unless the current agency leaders step down.

The president of the agency said it would rescind notices telling Fort Trumbull residents to leave properties being seized by eminent domain.

Michael Joplin agreed to pull back the notices after a meeting with state officials last week on a same day Governor Rell had demanded that the agency rescind the notices it sent to residents telling them to vacate the properties within 90 days. (AP)

The NLDC seemed like such a good idea when it was formed back in the mid-1990s. The city didn't have any money to spare for redevelopment (it still doesn't), so they decided to create a quasi-public "development corporation" to oversee and raise funds for New London's rebirth. The NLDC hit its stride when eccentric Connecticut College president Claire Gaudiani headed up the organization. Development plans were drawn up, and neighborhoods crossed out.

A major move forward came when Groton-based Pfizer located offices near Fort Trumbull: the city and the NLDC figured it would only be a matter of time before the economic engine of Pfizer combined with a new retail, hotel and entertainment complex nearby to get New London moving again, and to protect the city from the loss of a big chunk of the defense industry it had previously depended on.

Fort Trumbull proved to be a bigger stumbling block than they figured, however. The move was never especially popular (many of the city council members who voted for the resolution were not re-elected) and residents began to dig in their heels. Some of these residents were irate Connecticut College faculty, who put pressure on Gaudiani in their own way.

Gaudiani, who had become unpopular on and off campus, left in 2000, and the NLDC has remained mired in Fort Trumbull since. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to vindicate their position, but the national outcry was so strong that the city and the corporation found they had to tread lightly. Gov. Jodi Rell and others put pressure on the developers to include the remaining houses in the plans.

A turning point came last week when the NLDC issued eviction notices to the remaining residents without notifying the city or, indeed, anyone else. The city and state reacted angrily, prompting the NLDC to rescind the orders. But the damage had been done. Few in New London have confidence in the NLDC's leadership, and tonight that leadership may find itself out.

What will happen if the no-confidence vote passes? The NLDC will continue to exist, and the development probably will still go forward (although perhaps in a very different form). However, the city will have reasserted control over both, which could lead to better accountability and a decline in the NLDC's authority.

What may come out of all of this (besides a hotel complex no one needs) is a revision of state eminent domain laws that would make it much more difficult for large-scale private redevelopment projects like Fort Trumbull to go forward. Perhaps, if we're lucky, such a revision will finally force city officials to realize that a city's problems can't be solved by high rises, movie theaters, hotels and convention centers.

"City Council schedules 'no confidence' vote." Associated Press/WFSB 19 September, 2005.


Anonymous said...

Yet in 2002, Rowland and Rell used New London and the Fort Trumbull Project as the backdrop for their re-election announcement, after the NLDC had legally "taken" the residents homes in the state funded project.

Genghis Conn said...

Yes, Rowland played a very strong part in Fort Trumbull: so much so that it's legitimate to say that it wouldn't have happened the way it did without his constant support and pressure.

Rowland sincerely believed that big, expensive projects would transform urban areas. It was suburbia trying to colonize the city.

Cwhig said...

Since moving to Connecticut, I've learned that the words "quasi-public agency" mean "vehicle for cronyism and graft."