Inspiration for Kelo Case Leaves Town

Drugmaker Pfizer has announced plans to move offices and 1,400 employees out of New London, Connecticut, where it had ignited a heated debate over eminent domain that spawned the landmark Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case. Locals are not happy.

"That sentiment has been echoing around New London since Monday, when Pfizer, the giant drug company, announced it would leave the city just eight years after its arrival led to a debate about urban redevelopment that rumbled through the United States Supreme Court, and reset the boundaries for governments to seize private land for commercial use.

Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city's biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built."

The city had tried to use eminent domain to buy up private land and build an "urban village" shopping center in an effort to lure Pfizer and its power of job creation to town. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the city could use eminent domain for economic development that benefits the public, though much of the land obtained by the city still sits empty.

Full Story: Pfizer to Leave City That Won Land-Use Case



Not Surprising

I remember this case and wondering why APA filed an amicus brief on behalf of the New London Development Corporation. APA ethics say that planners will be a voice for the voiceless, and here APA was taking the side of a major corporation against a neighborhood. And now it shouldn't surprise anyone that Pfizer is leaving for greener pastures. This is what corporations do, they seek the lowest cost of doing business. We as planners and economic developers need to rethink the game of business recruitment and get away from buying companies to come to our towns. Mercenaries are usually not the most loyal army, so why do we think businesses will behave any different?

Constitution Allows Bad Judgment

I think its important to separate the Constitutional question "Is this legal?" from the political question "Is this wise?"

From a Constitutional standpoint, Kelo didn't appear to be a particlularly close call. The decision merely re-affirmed that economic development, blight abatement and redevelopment are all legitimate "public purposes" when determining if a City may exercise its power of eminent domain. The fact that private interests also benefit doesn't negate the public interests to be served. The decision actually went a little farther than that in favor of the planning profession by giving extra weight to the public interest side of the equation when the City is following an adopted plan.

It is up to the voters in New London to decide whether the redevelopment plan was wise. If not, they have the opportunity to elect representatives who make better decisions on their behalf. I suspect that there are several aspiring City Council members who have already noticed this opportunity and plan to make Pfizer's departure, and the ultimately futile expense to attract them, central themes in their campaigns.

Its a sad day for New London, and I'm sure an infuriating day for the Kelo family, but the failure of a redevelopment plan to meet its goals doesn't change the constitutional authority of cities any more than the bankrupcy of a poorly run newspaper calls into question the constitutional protections of Freedom of the Press.

Eco Dev vs. Public Good

in the words of dissenting Justice O'Connor, under the logic of the Kelo case, quote, "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory," unquote.

This is what I think concerned many people about this case. Eminent domain is a tool and like any tool it can be misused and setting the precedent of allowing eminent domain to be used simply as a means to increase local tax base is what caused the backlash against this decision. The baby has been thrown out with the bath water to some degree in the extent states have passed legislation (and in Texas just voted on a constitutional amendment) that I think go too far the other way in limiting its use.

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