- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

Property rights leaders and grass-roots activists plan to assemble tomorrow at a New York state conference to galvanize activism at a time when the issue of owners’ rights has drawn national attention.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled in the Connecticut case of Kelo v. City of New London that government, usually cities and counties, can seize private property and redistribute it to a private developer who will use it to generate tax revenue.

“Kelo has the effect of getting people very resolved,” said Carol LaGrasse of the Private Property Rights Foundation of America. “But it also has the effect of getting people very discouraged. We want to regain what we lost with the Supreme Court and use the inspiration from this threat.”

Hosted by the Private Property Rights Foundation of America, the ninth annual National Conference on Private Property Rights will be held in Albany, N.Y. Organizers said they invited a mix of prominent property rights leaders and ground-level activists in hopes of sparking action.

People who fought what they view as the encroachment of their property rights are scheduled to speak, including Michael Cristofaro, a New London property owner who has refused to leave a family home that local officials have tried to appropriate under eminent domain.

“We have a gun put to our head saying, ‘We have your property by eminent domain,’ ” Mr. Cristofaro said. “You’re threatened in such a way that you can’t even enjoy the peace and sanctuary of your own home.”

Mr. Cristofaro, a network engineer whose outrage prompted his decision to run for New London City Council in the next election, will share his tale at the conference.

“Municipalities have this 30-ton gorilla, and they’re just able to intimidate everyone with it,” he said. “I’m glad there’s this property rights conference to let people know exactly what is going on.”

Guy Poulin of Northville, N.Y., another of the conference’s speakers, said local officials took a lot he owned in Port Charlotte, Fla. to protect an endangered bird.

“They were going to give me $18,000 for the lot, but I had it appraised at $30,000.”

He negotiated for a higher price but said he fears not everyone will be treated equitably.

“When they can take your property just because they can get more taxes out of what is going to be built there … that’s absolutely asinine,” Mr. Poulin said. “It’s absolutely unconscionable that this can happen.”

Although the conference will focus on eminent domain, organizers point out that property rights aren’t just about land.

“We’re trying not to let this become a narrow issue of rural land rights,” Ms. LaGrasse said.

Speakers also will discuss water rights, the destruction of landmarks and intellectual property rights.

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