Most people across Connecticut still remember the eminent domain dispute that resulted in the 2005 Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London. It caught the attention of the entire nation when Susette Kelo’s property was seized by the city for public development.
Obtaining property for public use is the sole purpose of eminent domain. However, the controversy over this case came when it was discovered that a private company would benefit from developing this property.
This case led several states across the nation to reform eminent domain, and it seems that Connecticut could potentially be joining those ranks.
Kelo broadened the definition of “public use” in eminent domain
Under the “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, there were specific conditions required for governments to use eminent domain, including:
- The land could only be taken for public use;
- The government had to provide just compensation to the property owners; and
- The government could not take someone’s property without due process of law.
Originally, taking land for public use only meant that the government could take property for:
- Completing transportation projects and adding infrastructure;
- Establishing government buildings;
- Adding infrastructure for water supplies, such as pipelines; and
- Expanding park systems.
The 2005 Supreme Court Case expanded the definition of public use, but a new bill proposed in the House would potentially change that definition again.
New House bill would limit the definition once again
Last March, the Planning and Development Committee passed H.B. 5123. The goal of this bill is to once again limit the use of eminent domain and essentially prevent a case like Kelo’s from happening again. The bill would not allow state or municipal agencies in Connecticut to use eminent domain for:
- Private development projects; or
- Certain commercial developments.
We have yet to see if the bill will pass – after all, it must still pass the House, the Senate and then be signed into law. However, the introduction of such a bill could be a sign that Connecticut is taking eminent domain reform and property owners’ rights seriously.