- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Seven homeowners in New London, Conn., who narrowly lost a court battle to save their homes from condemnation say the city is still demanding as much as $300,000 in “use and occupancy” fees dating to the November 2000 condemnation order.

They say the demands are being made even though an eviction order from last week has been rescinded. It had been issued by the semi-public New London Development Corp. and had told the homeowners to move out in the next 30 to 90 days and pay $600 a month in rent while they continue to occupy the premises.

An attorney for NLDC, which wants to demolish the homes to make room for private development, had told the homeowners’ attorney last year that the city, for which NLDC has acted as an agent, expects to collect the occupancy fees.

“We know your clients did not expect to live in city-owned property for free, or rent out the property and pocket the profits … for three-and-a-half years and counting … if they ultimately lose the case,” the corporation wrote then.

NLDC “has not retracted that 2004 demand,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, whichrepresented the homeowners in their losing U.S. Supreme Court battle to prevent the city from using its power of eminent domain to condemn their properties and give them to NLDC.

Asked yesterday whether those large debts are still owed, David Goebel, chief operating officer of NLDC, said, “I can’t say what I don’t know.”

But Ron Angelo, deputy commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, yesterday seemed skeptical of whether NLDC would get the money.

“Those use and occupancy fees are still accruing, but accruing and collecting are two different animals,” he said.

The seven-member New London City Council was to vote last night on a motion to express no confidence in NLDC and its top leaders, Mr. Goebel and President Michael Joplin. But such action would not derail the project.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing today on the plight of the New London homeowners. The House Judiciary Committee plans a hearing Thursday.

The homeowners were plaintiffs in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, which the Supreme Court decided on June 23. In its 5-4 ruling, which outraged property rights advocates, the court held that government can seize property from owners and give it to a private developer who promises to use it to create jobs and generate tax revenues.

The houses in the Kelo case are near a 90-acre waterfront site in New London slated for development, intended to bolster a recently opened global research facility belonging to Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant.

When Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell learned Sept. 12 of debt-warning letters sent out by NLDC, she was “incensed” that she had not been informed in advance and ordered that the letters be rescinded, her spokesman said.

“Governor Rell thought everyone had agreed to a [voluntary] moratorium” she had requested on eminent domain seizures, said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the governor.

Mrs. Rell “feels the city of New London and NLDC can work their project around these homes, so the tenants are not forced out,” Mr. Everhart said.

Some of the homeowners insist they are not leaving. They include Wilhelmina and Charles Dery, who live in a house that has been in Mrs. Dery’s family for 100 years; she was born there in 1918.

NLDC has held title to the 13 homes involved in the legal dispute since November 2000. The compensation paid for those properties was put into an escrow account while the courtroom battles raged.

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