State GOP leaders didn’t succeed in limiting cities’ and towns’ powers of eminent domain this year, but laws that may discourage it are being pushed by both Republicans and Democrats at the national level.

State and national lawmakers jumped on the issue last week after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 that New London could take a group of privately owned homes to build a private development the city government says will help revitalize its struggling economy.

The case, Kelo v. The City of New London, centered on a group of homeowners, including Susette Kelo – who is named in the case – fighting to save the homes that many of them have lived in for years.

The New London Development Corp., a not-for-profit group that works to revitalize New London’s economy, was transferred eminent domain powers and decided to use them for a mixed-use project that will include a hotel and conference center, 80 units of housing, office space and other developments designed to spur economic recovery.

There has been almost no change in the development since the citizens of New London voted in favor of it five years ago, said David Goebel, chief operating officer of the New London Development Corp. The project is slated for waterfront property near the Fort Trumbull State Park. Developer Corcoran Jennison Cos. hopes to utilize a 90,000-square-foot building that was once used by the Navy as a Coast Guard research center, and will build another 200,000 square feet of office space. The development also will include the National Coast Guard Museum.

The area also includes a marina. The developers are working with its owner to redevelop it.

The 80 units of housing will likely be high-end condominiums on land formerly occupied by a Navy base, Goebel said. There is a high demand for condos in New London.

“We’re trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep it moving,” Goebel said.

‘A Good Idea’

The contracts for the development are all in place and the project will move forward. But some lawmakers want to make sure similar situations won’t happen in other locales.

F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, last week introduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from using economic development as a reason for taking private property, and would prohibit any state or municipality from doing the same if federal funds are involved with the project.

The House last week approved another bill that would keep federal funds from private properties that were taken for another private owner. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., introduced a bill that would keep federal transportation funds from being used on land seized for private development.

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Norm Krayem, a member of the Executive Committee of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, and the broker-owner of Realty Estates in Groton.

Eminent domain was created for a community as a whole to proper, he added.

“What New London did – and we are very unhappy [about New London’s and the Supreme Court’s actions] – was to allow private enterprise to come in [and make a profit],” Krayem said.

It’s one thing to demolish someone’s house to put in a road or to provide services, he said, but taking land for private use is different.

“[CAR] feels it’s an abuse of municipal power,” Krayem said. “I do believe legislators have to do something.”

State Republicans tried to pass some last-minute bills after the Supreme Court’s June 23 decision, but state Democrats had concerns about the timing, according to the Associated Press. The state House of Representatives voted against an amendment added onto the budget that said no owner-occupied residential property with four or fewer units could be seized by eminent domain if the resulting project would be privately owned.

Republicans in the state Senate also called for a special session – the Legislature’s regular session ended last month – to consider bills that would limit the state’s eminent domain laws.

“I just don’t believe that we should be in the business of taking a family’s home away from them for private interests,” Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, told the AP. “I don’t believe we should stand up and say private corporate needs, private development needs, trump individual rights.”

The proposals came too late in the legislative calendar to give them the proper attention, according to some Democrats who voted against them.

“We ought to study this more carefully so there are not unintended consequences,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, told the AP.

The timing of Connecticut’s budget votes and legislative session was tough, Krayem said. There was not “enough time to maneuver,” he said. But CAR – as well as Gov. M. Jodi Rell – is looking forward to the next legislative session, and both hope to see some law that will limit eminent domain.

“We support homeownership,” Krayem said.

Also at issue in the taking of Kelo’s and her neighbors’ homes is the amount they are receiving in exchange. New London technically bought Kelo’s house in 2000 and paid $123,000, although state law says that Kelo should get the value of the house on the date of the taking, not on the date she moves out. Kelo paid $56,000 when she bought her house in 1996, according to the AP.

But real estate prices have increased in the five years since the city bought Kelo’s and her neighbors’ homes. The city and the New London Development Corp. have not yet decided how to handle that situation, according to the AP.