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Nevermind all that.
November 13, 2009 1:51 AM   Subscribe

After the 2005 Kelo (previously) decision, granting the city of New London, CT the right to seize dozens of homes to make way for a luxury development including a hotel, stores, and condominiums next to a Pfizer research facility. The Kelo House itself was spared - moved to another part of town. The rest were demolished. The planned development? It never happened. All that's left are empty fields. Oh, and the research facility? Pfizer just announced they'll be closing it
posted by delmoi (63 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, that was certainly worth a loss of property rights, as well as the general over-reaction against eminent domain from state legislatures eager to amend their constitutions with hasty law in the other direction.
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 AM on November 13, 2009


Of course, Reason's told-you-so that seems to imply that it was somehow the governmental overreach that caused the failure of the Kelo development (because, of course, it was subsidies and not some sort of widespread real estate collapse that doomed the project) is pretty predictable itself.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 AM on November 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


[play: nelson_laugh.wav]
posted by cmonkey at 2:08 AM on November 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


welcome to the world of Pfizer...

They've left empty spaces and unemployment behind in a lot of locations in Michigan.
posted by HuronBob at 2:10 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


In Capitalist America, corporations aren't second class citizen.. You are.
posted by vivelame at 2:20 AM on November 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


klangklangston: The reason article was from June, 2008. The collapse of the real-estate bubble during that time is obvious in retrospect, but it was still something of a contentious issue at the time.
posted by delmoi at 2:30 AM on November 13, 2009


the general over-reaction against eminent domain

I'm not positive that real estate market conditions were why Pfizer left. It sounds like their merger with Wyeth was the primary reason for leaving. Without the merger, perhaps they would have stayed.

Given how the Kelo situation turned out in the end, some states' reactions seem appropriate, in hindsight.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:39 AM on November 13, 2009



Of course, Reason's told-you-so that seems to imply that it was somehow the governmental overreach that caused the failure of the Kelo development (because, of course, it was subsidies and not some sort of widespread real estate collapse that doomed the project) is pretty predictable itself.


Almost seems like we shouldn't take away people's homes in the name of some business subject to market fluctuations.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:30 AM on November 13, 2009 [27 favorites]


The collapse of the real-estate bubble during that time is obvious in retrospect, but it was still something of a contentious issue at the time.

The non-flatness the Earth is obvious in retrospect, but during Columbus's time was still something of a contentious issue.

Which is to say, sure, but only by complete fucking idiots.

In a slightly-similar but far less constitutionally-challenging turn of events, our local Public Market in Portland, the largest timber-framed building East of the Mississippi, was sold to developers a couple of years ago and every tenant (all local Maine companies) kicked to the street. They had great things planned for the site. More office space (oooh!), maybe some higher-rent-paying tenants (aaah!).

Today? Still fucking empty. And the neighborhood around it? Parking garages that are now hardly used, and homeless shelters.

NICE FUCKING JOB! You've simultaneously managed to bring down property values, completely gut a city landmark and cultural center, piss off a bunch of local vendors, and you have absolutely nothing to show for it!

Oh, but nobody could have foresaw that one, either, right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:48 AM on November 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


Almost seems like we shouldn't take away people's homes in the name of some business subject to market fluctuations.

Why don't you love Merica?
posted by maxwelton at 3:55 AM on November 13, 2009


Civil_Disobidient, I think you'll find the next stage of the project is "well, it's completely uneconomical to use this old building for our purposes. We tried, but we just couldn't make the numbers work. So unless we can tear it down and get a code variance for a new tower (oh, and some tax breaks), we're going to have to declare bankruptcy." Of course, in the meantime, they'll be sure to skimp on the maintenance so the building quickly deteriorates to a point beyond repair.
posted by maxwelton at 4:00 AM on November 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


neoliberalism in a nutshell

(thanks for this post, delmoi)
posted by jammy at 4:05 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The real bummer is, when you leave land vacant and fallow, wildlife moves back in, fast. Wait a couple years, then you get to kick all the animals out that moved in! I watched that happen in Flint, Michigan. They tore down a chunk of a fairly decent neighborhood to make room for an interstate loop, then waited several years. By the time they decided to build the loop, there wasn't enough of Flint left to really justify it, and, the place was crawling with pheasant and rabbits and who knows what else, and that within a few blocks of the city center.

I remember a specific spot on the edge. There had been a rather nice old tree growing there. Then they cut it down. When I happened by, the stump was clean and fresh. A line of ants were marching across the freshly opened stump. I was repulsed. It was one of the most obscene things I've ever seen. It took decades to grow that tree there, in the city. It really was on the very edge of where the freeway was going. It would not have been difficult to work around it. Nothing needed to be there. The entire world would have benefited from that tree being left there to do it's glorious thing. But it would have been a minor annoyance to the road builders, and we can't have that!
posted by Goofyy at 4:09 AM on November 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


The governmental overreach didn't cause the failure, but it certainly allowed the failure to damage the local community. The city took a huge risk, and they lost. This story is like so many others in the business world from the last few years: a failure to properly assess the risks involved in the deal.

The lesson is that cities and towns should be more skeptical when some MBA tells them they've got it all figured out, and promises fortune and prosperity. The "general over-reaction against eminent domain" sounds to me like a pretty reasonable (albeit crude) encoding of that skepticism -- there are some risks that governments just shouldn't be allowed to take.
posted by sriracha at 4:40 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought erection was Pfizer's core business.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:48 AM on November 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


The lesson is that allowing a taking under the 5th should not be premised on the expectation of economic benefit to the community, especially when its a transfer from one private party to another. I generally support the justices who formed the majority in Kelo, but in this case, it was a bad decision then and its become even worse over the passage of time. Economic benefit via private parties != public use.
posted by Atreides at 5:04 AM on November 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


(because, of course, it was subsidies and not some sort of widespread real estate collapse that doomed the project)

I don't think Pfizer left because of the real estate collapse or the merger:
With an agreement that it would pay just one-fifth of its property taxes for the first 10 years, Pfizer spent $294 million on a 750,000-square-foot complex that opened in 2001.... The complex is currently assessed at $220 million, said Robert M. Pero, a city councilman who is scheduled to become mayor next month. The company pays tax on 20 percent of that value and the state pays an additional 40 percent, Mr. Pero said. That arrangement is scheduled to end in 2011, around the time Pfizer, which is currently the city’s biggest taxpayer, expects to complete its withdrawal.
What a coincidence.
posted by enn at 5:11 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


What I got most from Michael Moore's most recent film is that we have this unhealthy codependent relationship with corporations. Corporations in a capitalist system are designed to be completely sociopathic, but we are hopelessly devoted to them. No matter what abuses they inflict upon us, we continue to believe their empty promises. The city should have gotten a contract, or some kind of binding guarantee of the development. They should be holding Pfizer accountable for the lost income. Pfizer would never enter into a deal without making sure they were covered on the back end. But if the city hadn't agreed to the horribly one-sided deal, the company would just have found some some other place to set up shop, right?

Well, you know what? You don't need him, honey. You're better than that.
posted by Eideteker at 5:26 AM on November 13, 2009 [13 favorites]


This whole thread makes me feel like something similar is going to happen in Cleveland.
posted by sciurus at 6:02 AM on November 13, 2009


The Glorious New Regime will fix this problem (and many others) by the simple expedient of annually selecting, at random, 1000 MBA-holders and executing them on the street. Any individual found to hold an MBA, at any point in their life, will be liable for this selection process.

A further 2000 will be randomly chosen to clean up the corpses, but only after at least 24 hours have passed. They will spend that 24 hours sitting or standing within ten feet of the body. Anyone chosen for cleanup duty will automatically be granted a reprieve from the next selection cycle and will be required to use the business title "Vice President of Body Removal" on all forms of correspondence. Failure to use that title will result in immediate defenestration from no less than the eighth floor of a structure, once passersby have been removed from the impact area.

In the absence of suitably tall nearby structures, the offender shall be thrown from the tallest convenient point, natural or man-made. This may require multiple throwings, so appropriate crowd-control barriers shall be erected. The use of automatic body retrieval winches to accelerate the recovery and re-throwing process is permitted. It may be necessary to hose down the impact area during the process, in which case the local fire department must be duly notified. Cleanup may be expedited by previous advertising indicating that MBA body parts are potent sexual aids. Please note: Torgo's Executive Powder has engaged in a co-marketing arrangement; members of the commissariat who wish to avail themselves of this branding opportunity should contact the local Torgo branch office.
posted by aramaic at 6:10 AM on November 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


The entire world would have benefited from that tree being left there to do it's glorious thing. But it would have been a minor annoyance to the road builders, and we can't have that!

you might not think so kindly about that tree if you hit it at 60 mph.
posted by lester at 6:20 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many people reading this thread realize that the Kelo decision was made by the "liberal" justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. The conservative justices of O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist, routinely vilified here, strongly dissented.
"Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful." - Justice Thomas
posted by Pastabagel at 6:41 AM on November 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient: The public market went bust, mainly because it sold a lot of specialty nonsense that no one needs on a regular enough basis to justify going there. If they had tried to make it a viable grocery store, it would probably have survived, because there isn't a grocery store on the peninsula at all anymore. But the point is, first the public market went out of business, then the building was sold. Your description makes it sound like the market was forced out by grasping developers. In fact, the city had to pretty much bribe someone to buy the building, because no one could come up with any use for it. It's not surprising at all that no one has yet come up with a use for it.
posted by rusty at 6:46 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought the Kelo decision basically deferred to the states eminent domain statute.
posted by electroboy at 6:48 AM on November 13, 2009


The non-flatness the Earth is obvious in retrospect, but during Columbus's time was still something of a contentious issue...


That bit of your statement needs tempering, Civil_Disobedient

From Wiki's Myth of the Flat Earth entry: The popularized version of the misconception that people before the age of exploration believed that Earth was flat persists in the popular imagination, and is even repeated in some widely read textbooks. Previous editions of Thomas Bailey's The American Pageant stated that "The superstitious sailors [of Columbus' crew] ... grew increasingly mutinous...because they were fearful of sailing over the edge of the world"; however, no such historical account is known.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:51 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many people reading this thread realize that the Kelo decision was made by the "liberal" justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

HMM I DUNNO MAYBE THE ONES WHO KNEW FOUR MOTHERFUCKING YEARS AGO

Liberals - especially MeFi liberals - aren't exactly a mouth-breathing hivemind of neoliberals, despite your ridiculous paranoid fantasies to the contrary. But please, don't let that stop you from getting on your soapbox and lecturing us with your cornpone made-up just-so stories.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:52 AM on November 13, 2009 [14 favorites]


The governmental overreach didn't cause the failure, but it certainly allowed the failure to damage the local community. The city took a huge risk, and they lost. This story is like so many others in the business world from the last few years: a failure to properly assess the risks involved in the deal.
posted by sriracha at 7:40 AM on November 13


No way. The government overreach is entirely responsible for the failure. The government It is not the role of government to take on speculative risk. If the land in question was really ripe for development, the developers would have paid top dollar to the current landowners to get the property. The reason they did not do this is because the land was not ripe for development. The fundamental economics did not support a development of that size going there. The government, however, wanted that development to go there for various short sighted tax reasons.

The market cannot be pushed to expand faster than the fundamentals of supply and demand. If the development was necessary, the owners would have been offered a price by Pfizer and other developers that would have made sense for them to sell. But the developers weren't going to offer that, because they knew, as experience real estate developers that the market didn't support it.

The difference that you are glossing over is that in a typical development deal, the party from whom the land was originally purchased actually gets what they wanted and what they negotiated. The developer, who takes on all the risk, is the one who bears the burden of the failure.

Now, the original property owners are screwed twice by their government - first, their government seizes their property, second, their government is going to raise their taxes to pay for this blunder.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:53 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Liberals - especially MeFi liberals - aren't exactly a mouth-breathing hivemind of neoliberals, despite your ridiculous paranoid fantasies to the contrary. But please, don't let that stop you from getting on your soapbox and lecturing us with your cornpone made-up just-so stories.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:52 AM on November 13


Repeated for irony.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:55 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


So do the original owners get the chance to buy their property back? Would that be at the price paid under eminent domain, or the now deflated values of a failed development?
posted by Gungho at 7:02 AM on November 13, 2009


the general over-reaction against eminent domain from state legislatures eager to amend their constitutions with hasty law in the other direction.

I would hardly call it an over-reaction. The Supreme Court once again failed to rein in government abuses such as this, and there was an appropriate amount of outrage that was addressed in many states.

The real shame about the state reactions is that many of the state laws passed to ban eminent domain abuse are fairly toothless. For example, Texas just passed Amendment 11 which forbids seizing property for "the primary purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues."

But it still, perhaps appropriately, allows seizing blighted property. The issue is the Texan definition of 'blight' can include "economic or social liability to the municipality”, so if your house isn't pulling in as much tax as the proposed development, it can be deemed "blighted".

Ilya Somin at Volokh has a more detailed examination of the new Texas law and its weaknesses.
posted by dragoon at 7:15 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


> The reason article was from June, 2008. The collapse of the real-estate bubble during that time is obvious in retrospect, but it was still something of a contentious issue at the time.

Housing prices peaked in 2005. I'm pretty sure that three years later, when the real estate market was already free falling at terminal velocity, there weren't enough people sufficiently deluded otherwise to count as a market demographic any more.
posted by ardgedee at 7:22 AM on November 13, 2009


The drug company has moved but hardly that far away from where it had been and was the issue for the eminent domain. My daughter-in-law, working for that company, can still with ease get to her job. The issue then as now is what exactly do we mean by a state authority (city, state, national etc) having the right to seize private property for some (what?) reason? since corporations generate both jobs and tax money, and they can afford expensive legal counsel, they put the individual home owner and small businessman at a great disadvantage.

But this seizure and then move offers a lesson in what happens when politicians play along with the vested interests. Then they are left holding less than they had when they helped the large companies, and those screwed over are still...well, screwed over.
posted by Postroad at 7:23 AM on November 13, 2009


Repeated for irony.
posted by Pastabagel 27 minutes ago


Really? Do you want to point out how many of the hardline liberals here supported the Court's decision in Kelo? Name names.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:24 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Free-market-fundamentalists disagreed with the Kelo decision for the reasons that Pastabagel outlined.

But many social-democrats also disagree with this decision, for a completely different reason. It's socially destructive to use eminent domain to take anyone's primary residence and/or primary means of sustenance. Not all property is the same: few social-democrats would have objected if the buildings and land in question were secondary residences like summer cottages, or one of many stores in a chain. People's homes or primary livelihoods (like their only store) have a value which goes beyond their market value, and this is why the residents refused to sell even though they were offered market value for the property.

The reason that we have eminent domain is that sometimes an individual's right to property is trumped by the community's need for an essential service -- like a road or economic development. I would have had no problem with the New London case had unused land or secondary residences been seized for the project. But when it comes to primary residences and primary sources of income (only shop, farm, etc.), the individual's need for their homes and livelihoods should trump all but the most essential of services, and eminent domain should be truly a last resort used only in cases there is no other choice and the benefit to the community is immediate, neither of which was true in the New London case.

But if it comes to it, and some land speculator chooses to squat on land important for economic development, trying to force a higher price, I have absolutely no problem with the government coming in and using eminent domain. Because in that case, economic development serves a greater need than the land speculator making more money.

Actually -- we already do this with internet property, when squatters take over domain names. Why not with real estate?
posted by jb at 7:41 AM on November 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


Note: I used free-market fundamentalists and social-democrats because it's just so freaking weird to be talking about pro-free-market conservatives and anti-free-market liberals -- and what the heck is a neo-liberal anyways? The words have flipped so often, I can't tell anymore. A liberal really should love free markets and civil rights; a conservative should support the Church and the Corn Laws.

I probably should have said free-marketer, rather than free-market fundamentalist; there are plenty of the latter, but also many of the former who believe that the free-market provides not only an efficient means of exchange but also maintains a healthy society, but also agree to some limitation.

Social-democrat really would be the best word to describe what many Americans call "liberal", at least for economic issues. It's the self-chosen name in much of the world for people who believe in market exchange as the primary way to exhange goods and sevices, but also believe in limiting and ameliorating the excesses of the market through judicious government regulation and spending to support a more democratic and socially healthy society.
posted by jb at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many people reading this thread realize that the Kelo decision was made by the "liberal" justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. The conservative justices of O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist, routinely vilified here, strongly dissented.

Who cares? The fault really lies with the New London local and Connecticut state governments. Why is the focus not being put on them?

If any number of, say, Bush's (or, if you have partisan beliefs on the other side, LBJ's) wrong-headed policies were appealed to the supreme court, odds are almost all of them would have been "approved." Why? Not because they were the best ideas ever, but because, well, our constitution does allow politicians to do stupid things.

As for Scalia's dissent: I don't even believe his vote is credible-- he's the guy who's argued that Americans enjoy far more rights than they are constitutionally entitled to. The decision fell along partisan lines in an odd way.
posted by deanc at 7:52 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually -- we already do this with internet property, when squatters take over domain names. Why not with real estate?

The only time this is done with domain names is when the "squatter" doesn't really have a right to the domain name they've registered, as a result of an underlying trademark/servicemark dispute.

E.g., someone can't register "Coca-Cola" and then hold it hostage from the legitimate holder of the "Coca-Cola" trademark (the Coca-Cola Company). It has nothing to do with social utility, it's an issue of domain registrations not trumping existing intellectual property law.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:00 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a slightly-similar but far less constitutionally-challenging turn of events, our local Public Market in Portland, the largest timber-framed building East of the Mississippi, was sold to developers a couple of years ago and every tenant (all local Maine companies) kicked to the street. They had great things planned for the site. More office space (oooh!), maybe some higher-rent-paying tenants (aaah!).

Today? Still fucking empty. And the neighborhood around it? Parking garages that are now hardly used, and homeless shelters.

NICE FUCKING JOB! You've simultaneously managed to bring down property values, completely gut a city landmark and cultural center, piss off a bunch of local vendors, and you have absolutely nothing to show for it!


Erm. I had to click your link to confirm you were talking about Portland, Maine, because, well, what rusty said. And, also, the homeless shelters and low-income housing were there before the market was built(Preble Street was founded in 1975) and were part of the reason the Noyes Foundation chose to site the old market where they did, they did not spring up in reaction to it. The Public Market closed because of its gross mismanagement, leaving the city fairly desperate to find someone, anyone who would by and do something productive with the space. The market was closed for well over a year before they found a buyer.

Also, most of the core vendors moved into the old Army/Navy store on Monument Square, where they founded Public Market House, which operates as a cooperative between the vendors (previously they were tenants of the Market), giving them both more profits and more control.
posted by anastasiav at 8:16 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, I hate Kelo.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


@kuujjuarapik

I'm tempted to pay five more bucks just to favorite that twice.
posted by drowsy at 9:06 AM on November 13, 2009


Also, most of the core vendors moved into the old Army/Navy store on Monument Square, where they founded Public Market House, which operates as a cooperative between the vendors (previously they were tenants of the Market), giving them both more profits and more control.

...and where they still sell lots of luxury food items no one needs very much of, although you can find decent hard cider there, so I'll give them that. I think the really important point here is why the hell can't we get a grocery store of any description on the peninsula? </portlandfilter>
posted by rusty at 9:07 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


God, I hate Kelo.

And I hate it when I find myself in serious, full, and passionate agreement with the likes of Scalia and Thomas, but what can you do?
posted by chimaera at 9:47 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The city took a huge risk, and they lost. This story is like so many others in the business world from the last few years: a failure to properly assess the risks involved in the deal....The lesson is that cities and towns should be more skeptical when some MBA tells them they've got it all figured out,

This is quite true, as well. I was in college in New London when the deal went through, and then lived in a nearby CT town in the early 2000s during the Kelo case, and there were dollar signs in the eyes of local pols and many (obviously not all) landowners. New London is an old whaling and then Navy town that had fallen on depressed times after World War II. Though there was a fair-sized population living in town, the place was decayed, lined with empty storefronts and homes in which maintenance had been long deferred. There weren't any jobs to speak of. Its beautiful and historic downtown was a spooky shell.

So the rhetoric surrounding the courtship of Pfizer was calculated to enchant the public: the streets would be paved with gold, downtown would thrive again, a new cultural and arts hub would emerge, tax base would grow, new residents would move in, infrastructure would improve, city beautified, jobs for all!

Of course none of this fully materialized, even though Pfizer's main complex was built and I think about 5000 people worked there. Most of those people moved from other parts of the Northeast to take those jobs, but very few settled in New London; most lived in outlying and newer suburbs, and left New London at the end of the workday. They didn't go out for lunch or shopping much, because the Pfizer HQ is pretty self-containing and has all the services you'd need. And the downtown New London shopping opportunities are not all a well-paid PharmaCo staffer would want. The vast vacant lots created by the demolition are now haunting, barren prairies in the middle of a formerly densely-packed town. I can't say the town has seen *no* impact - a few upscaley places have taken hold, like an artisanal wine-and-cheese shop that's very nice, and a bookstore with coffee - but they are mostly relying on the city's actual residents for support, not on the Pfizer outflow. However, we'll see what happens. A lot of people were urban-homesteading in NL because you could find some really amazing, well-constructed old houses for a song, if you didn't mind living next to a crackhouse like a couple of my friends do, or in an old family neighborhood where only a few struggling seniors remain and weeds are growing because no one does yard work. I'm sure they'll stay, but not if the city goes back to being as unsafe as it was. ONe of my friends moved there with her family, but they sold and moved out after her young son discovered a pile of spent bullets in their backyard.

There's an interesting analogy between the kind of thinking the city and state did and what pharmaceutical companies rely on for a living: market a quick-fix pill that will take care of all your problems, avoiding the examination of underlying causes or more complex solutions. The City Viagra Built is did a sadly appropriate imitation of what happens when you take Viagra...and then when it wears off.
posted by Miko at 9:49 AM on November 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


...and where they still sell lots of luxury food items no one needs very much of,

My understanding was that in its original incarnation, the Public Market sold a lot more local/Maine products, and gradually gave way to specialty-foods stores carrying European imports and stuff. Is that right? Certainly that's what was being sold last time I visited the Public Market before it closed.
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on November 13, 2009


Well, that was certainly worth a loss of property rights, as well as the general over-reaction against eminent domain from state legislatures eager to amend their constitutions with hasty law in the other direction.

Citation, klangklangston? Name even one law that was an over-reaction to a very disturbing decision from the SCOTUS that many of their constituents felt was a ludicrous misappropriation of their constitutional rights.

For "over-reaction", read "reaction". For "hasty", read "timely". That was good state government, for a change.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:01 AM on November 13, 2009


I wonder how many people reading this thread realize that the Kelo decision was made by the "liberal" justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.
...
Who cares? The fault really lies with the New London local and Connecticut state governments. Why is the focus not being put on them?


Because, deanc, without the SCOTUS decision, the bad thing that is Kelo would never have happened.

ALL of those mentioned (excepting the KELO-dissenting SCOTUS Justices, of course) share the fault.

However, only the SCOTUS KELO-supporting Justices made this a national misstep, instead of a state or local community one.



Oh, and Atreides:
The lesson is that allowing a taking under the 5th should not be premised on the expectation of economic benefit to the community, especially when its a transfer from one private party to another. ... Economic benefit via private parties != public use.

I fucking love you, man. Beautifully put.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:13 AM on November 13, 2009


To elaborate a little on what I wrote last night:

I come from Michigan, which has had to deal with a lot of redevelopment, eminent domain questions, both prior and post Kelo. (And Pfizer!) That this project was a failure does not mean that the use of eminent domain powers to force purchase of private property for public economic good is always going to end in failure, nor do I believe that this isn't a risk that cities or states should be allowed to take—any taxes, fees or bonds enacted by legislatures for redevelopment projects are essentially the same thing. The Berman decision in the Supreme Court upheld this.

After Kelo, in which the justices defaulted to the state constitution in Connecticut, our constitution in Michigan was already pretty strict on takings, and a recent Michigan supreme court ruling had already overturned the previous power of the state to confiscate for economic redevelopment. But an additional law was passed that amplified that already strict standard to make it essentially impossible for the state to use eminent domain powers economically. This means that for a cash-strapped state, Michigan effectively can't use the state to redevelop huge swaths of really blighted areas, areas that no private investor would bother with because they're brownfields or collapsing in terrible neighborhoods, etc. We already had a strong body of restraint in our law, and while making it stronger was popular, it was not in the general best interests of a large part of the state.

As to Pfizer, I remember when they expanded their campus in Ann Arbor, on the back of all sorts of tax deferment and reduction. They still managed to collapse there, leaving a huge empty building. The problem is, as shown by businesses like Steelcase on the other side of the state, that yeah, corporations are necessarily sociopathic, and Michigan is so desperate to hang on to any business that it will cut sweetheart deals, like a beaten spouse trying to hold on to their abuser. That's really got very little to do with eminent domain.
posted by klangklangston at 10:22 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


only the SCOTUS KELO-supporting Justices made this a national misstep, instead of a state or local community one.
But we're not talking about the national consequences of the decision, are we? As far as I can tell, there has been no national binge of use of eminent domain to fund private redevelopment efforts in the wake of Kelo. In fact, I'd argue the opposite-- in the past, these sorts of takings went under the radar are were considered positive things. Since Kelo, everyone's been appealing to their state and local governments to make sure that this sort of thing won't happen. If anyone made Kelo happen, it was the corrupt officials in New London and the Connecticut state government who had no problem with such arrangements in the past. And, not to mention, the citizens who figured that these sorts of efforts were fine as long as use of eminent domain wouldn't happen to (anyone who looked like) them.
posted by deanc at 10:25 AM on November 13, 2009


This is only interesting to me if I can find a way to attack people with it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


My understanding was that in its original incarnation, the Public Market sold a lot more local/Maine products, and gradually gave way to specialty-foods stores carrying European imports and stuff. Is that right? Certainly that's what was being sold last time I visited the Public Market before it closed.

The original intent of the Public Market (built as a nonprofit entity by professional philanthropist Elizabeth Noyes) was to serve as a venue for local and healthy products, (I found an old Libra Foundation quote that says "it was designed to help farmers and small-business people and extend economic development into the city's struggling Bayside neighborhood") so there was always a mix, but the mix moved more toward 'specialty' as the inept market management basically priced out the local vendors.

Now, of course Public Market House is local vendors who do mostly local-ish food. A big anchor is K Horton Foods who was a big, founding vendor in the old market as well. They're a specialty cheese shop, and always have been, so they do local cheeses (and other local foods, including a limited amount of meat and produce) but the nature of "cheese" is that they sell cheeses from all over the world. Big Sky Bread is in there (handmade breads), Spartan Grill (Greek food), Maine Beer and Beverage Co (another cornerstone of the old market), and Local Sprouts (who you'd love). And, of course, the Wednesday Farmer's Market operates right smack on their doorstep.
posted by anastasiav at 10:45 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


welcome to the world of Pfizer...

They've left empty spaces and unemployment behind in a lot of locations in Michigan.

As to Pfizer, I remember when they expanded their campus in Ann Arbor, on the back of all sorts of tax deferment and reduction. They still managed to collapse there, leaving a huge empty building. The problem is, as shown by businesses like Steelcase on the other side of the state, that yeah, corporations are necessarily sociopathic, and Michigan is so desperate to hang on to any business that it will cut sweetheart deals, like a beaten spouse trying to hold on to their abuser. That's really got very little to do with eminent domain.


That's interesting, they pretty much did the same thing in San Diego too. They built a huge campus next to UCSD, some people even moved to San Diego in anticipation of many jobs, but instead they changed their minds, occupied one building and put "for rent" signs on the rest. But they did actually get to building most of the facilities, I recall.

I take it, like many Mega-Corps, they're just not that interested in R&D. It's easier for them to 'acquire' the 'next big thing' at fire sale prices from smaller, poorer, better companies; market it; and when necessary gouge the government to do and pay for any real research work, and then they just steal, er acquire that.

[play: nelson_laugh.wav] on all of us really.
posted by peppito at 11:00 AM on November 13, 2009


The libertarian Institute for Justice has a report about eminent domain abuse in New York. It's pretty bad.

I think the conflation of "public purpose" with public use is a travesty of reasoning. Kelo was an opportunity to restrict eminent domain to true public uses - libraries, schools, roads - and it failed. O'Connor and Thomas are correct in that Kelo reaffirms bad precedent which basically deletes the words "for public use" from the 5th Amendment.

It's truly sad because the lesson of Kelo is that if you are poor or working class and happen to live on valuable property, you'd better be on your toes because the government may take it from you as soon as a developer shows up with promises of glittering new businesses. God forbid anyone in the lower tax brackets be allowed to live on waterfront land.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 11:08 AM on November 13, 2009


Oh man, New London.
I was in college there during KeloM, and I was pretty ashamed of the behavior of the Democrats in charge. I understand why they wanted to develop New London (boy does it need something) but it always seemed an unwise and Faustian bargain to take peoples' homes for the sake of development to try to appeal to Pfizer.

There was one bar, Stash's(nsfw?) that did seem to get good business from the Pfizer employees, and they just recently renovated. I imagine they're screwed.

There's a lot of local businesses that were struggling to make it, and this is one more thing on top. When cross-river-neighbor Grotton loses its sub base (the preservation of which was Joe Lieberman's claim to electoral fame) and General Dynamic's subsidiary Electric Boat follows... The New London development corporation is going to need an angel.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:09 AM on November 13, 2009


In other words, I guess they're now a real estate company, in both intellectual and land property senses.
posted by peppito at 11:10 AM on November 13, 2009


It's truly sad because the lesson of Kelo is that if you are poor or working class and happen to live on valuable property, you'd better be on your toes because the government may take it from you as soon as a developer shows up with promises of glittering new businesses.
Remember the West End.
posted by deanc at 11:19 AM on November 13, 2009


any taxes, fees or bonds enacted by legislatures for redevelopment projects are essentially the same thing

Not really. In that situation, the public shares the risk equally. Right or wrong, eminent domain separates a few specific parties from their property. It's a somewhat different matter.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:16 PM on November 13, 2009


The market cannot be pushed to expand faster than the fundamentals of supply and demand

This is a common way for eminent domain issues to be framed and I think it's largely misleading in its treatment of how land transformation actually works. Changing the land use of a given area is a process that often outlives any one real estate cycle.

The individual steps in the process (obtaining rights to land, removing existing built environment, building new infrastructure, developing new uses, finding tenants...) cost money and the transactions occur in various 'market dynamics'. However, from a (municipal) planning perspective, the project horizon is often multiple decades and transcends conventional ideas of demand. In fact, the more successful efforts tend to create their own market by creating value that didn't exist before (here I'm not just talking about assessed property value that relates to the upgrade of land).

A good example of this (as I type away in the Stata Center) is what happened to East Cambridge after the NASA campus fell through. In the 60's they kicked a lot of people out of their houses (that had been around since the late 19th/early 20th century), bull dozed the place, and then when Kennedy was assassinated, and LBJ moved NASA to Texas, Cambridge sat there with their thumb up their ass. But not for too long, as they made a plan (novel at the time) to build around their wealth of higher education. What exists today is a commercially vibrant, fiscally bountiful district that is the envy of almost every city in the country.

Granted, there are caveats here:

(1) the extent to which any site can be viewed in isolation, or as an integral part of a larger community/economy/place, however, these efforts, when done correctly, should be holistic

(2) the extent to which timing given commercial markets can eliminate the opportunity cost of underused land

(3) the fact that Cambridge was not only farsighted, but lucky and fortunate before this happened...


My point is that regardless of New London's intentions or the effectiveness of their handling of the project, the discussion should focus on property rights and the appropriate reach of government, and not on "economy", "markets", or ideas of "supply and demand".

New London is not Cambridge, but the decision to build around MIT decades ago was as fantastical then as the gamble on Pfizer looks foolish now.


when the real estate market was already free falling at terminal velocity, there weren't enough people sufficiently deluded otherwise to count as a market demographic any more.

As a side note, as I was working at an economic forecasting firm in '06-'07, there were plenty of well feathered, intelligent (and totally mistaken) people in the economics world who were late to realize the turn in the housing market and severely underestimated the depth and length of the ensuing consequences. I'm sure some of them were sycophants to Wall Street, but many were just too much into the Kool-Aid. This wasn't an isolated phenomena.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pfizer made no promises and has the perfect right to abandon the place according to the terms of its lease.

Serves New London officialdom right. They are just sorry about their own losing gamble.
posted by knoyers at 12:53 PM on November 13, 2009


"Not really. In that situation, the public shares the risk equally. Right or wrong, eminent domain separates a few specific parties from their property. It's a somewhat different matter."

Taxation neither is nor should be equal across the board, but I understand what you're saying. I do kind of wonder what would happen if deals were structured to have the property revert to the owners in the event that a redevelopment fails.

And thinking about a town near where I grew up, Ypsilanti being that town, where a New Urbanist mixed-use development (Water Street) became a total debacle due to all sorts of unforeseen issues, all I can think about is how complicated redevelopment and planning truly is. I suppose that without a strong power of eminent domain within a state, the counterbalancing law that I'd want would be to make property owners more responsible for their ultimate environmental impact. I say this because, basically, the barrier to real estate redevelopment there was that there used to be a lot of "light" industrial buildings there, which had been largely abandoned. The city used, in part, their powers of eminent domain to buy those sites (and pressure others to sell) that were empty chroming shops or paint shops or any number of automotive secondary market shops that had tossed assloads of heavy metals into the soil. Without the state being able to force a discounted sale, the owners were basically demanding an unreasonable price for private developers when those developers also had to do the environmental clean-up. Without forcing them to sell, we would have never known just how polluted that area truly was, and it would have always stood as a bunch of cinder block buildings with broken windows on concrete slabs. Even with the sale, they didn't disclose all of the damage, and a lot of it had to be discovered by doing testing for the new development's environmental impact. Laws that forced regular cleanups would have both decreased the market value so as to be viable for new construction and would have mitigated that damage. Instead, new restrictions on eminent domain just made the whole project more costly. That, again, a huge economic and real estate downturn happened also didn't help the Water Street folks, and neither did the confluence of naive, credulous city administrators and developers that had no local investment and were, at best, wildly out of touch with the community.

As a side note, living in Michigan in the '90s under the Republicans let me see what all of America came to see under Bush—the wildly anti-environment, "pro-business" policies of Engler really did lead to all sorts of rapacious and damaging policies. I only wish that Michigan's current governor, Jennifer Granholm, was better suited to undo the damage; she's a good politician and was a great attorney general, but the state is in such dire straits that it really needs a great leader, and Granholm is only good, not great. The biggest worry I have for Michigan is for the voters to forget that Engler and the Republicans really were terrible, and to punish the Democrats for not being great.
posted by klangklangston at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few things.

The market was closed for well over a year before they found a buyer.

The owners of the space went looking for a buyer. So they evicted every tenant they possibly could, the lone holdout was Romeo's Pizza because their lease went an extra six months. And they stood their ground the entire time, while they slowly gutted the place around them.

The public market went bust, mainly because it sold a lot of specialty nonsense that no one needs on a regular enough basis to justify going there

Wrong. The market didn't go bust. The market was bustling until they shuttered the doors. And guess what happened? All the merchants selling "specialty nonsense" ended up moving to the abandoned Army Surplus store where they opened shop selling... the same specialty nonsense. And they're packed every day, just like the market was.

And, also, the homeless shelters and low-income housing were there before the market was built(Preble Street was founded in 1975) and were part of the reason the Noyes Foundation chose to site the old market where they did, they did not spring up in reaction to it.

I realize Preble St. predates the Market. That wasn't my point. My point was that the Public Market was the only thing keeping that area up. Which was, as you say, the original reason for putting it there. Now it is a wasteland. You've got one dry cleaners, and then it's destitution row until you hit the old rail tracks (and yes, I count the Fox station as part of destitution row because the rear offices are General Assistance).

and gradually gave way to specialty-foods stores carrying European imports and stuff. Is that right?

No, they had specific stipulations on Maine-only products.

K Horton Foods - Excellent cheese, excellent smoked fish.
Big Sky Bread - Excellent sandwiches.
Spartan Grill (Greek food) - He was doing better when he ran a stand out in Monument Square.

I work in the Square, live in town, and have friends who work at the Market (old and new, since it's a lot of the same businesses that supposedly "couldn't make it" at the Old Market), so believe it or not, I might actually know what the hell I'm talking about on this one.

And finally...

That bit of your statement needs tempering, Civil_Disobedient

No, you missed the point completely. Sigh.

The original comment (re: the housing bubble): but it was still something of a contentious issue at the time My point: it wasn't contentious. It was extremely well-known by 2008.

My analogy: Housing Bubble Contentiousness : 2008 :: Flat Earth Contentiousness : 1492.

The explanation, in case it's still going over your head: not contentious, extremely well-known by 1492. Get it?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:20 PM on November 13, 2009


There was one bar, Stash's(nsfw?) that did seem to get good business from the Pfizer employees, and they just recently renovated. I imagine they're screwed.

Stash's was going strong before Pfizer came in (when I was in college), so I think they'll pull through. There aren't that many places of that type in the region.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on November 13, 2009


That previous thread was totally derailed by me and dios arguing ad nauseum about what Bork's famous 'inkblot' quote meant (and I maintain that he was being deliberately obtuse in misconstruing my point!). But what I was trying to say then, and got totally drowned out by the stupid derail, is directly at odds with this quote today:
I wonder how many people reading this thread realize that the Kelo decision was made by the "liberal" justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. The conservative justices of O'Connor, Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist, routinely vilified here, strongly dissented.
THERE IS NO LIBERAL WING TO OUR COURT. There are less conservative conservatives, but no liberals. That the Very Conservative opposed this decision does not make them right, nor does it make the Conservatives liberal. It's just another bad decision in a bad era of the court. And therein lies the way that Mr. Obama can truly make his presidency a lasting success: some luck and a good vetting process.
posted by norm at 8:04 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Communities need to stop inviting corporations in to rape their citizens, period. How many Home Depots and Lowe's have been invited into towns with a lure of tax breaks on a promise of jobs, only to have one line open at peak hours, hardly anyone on the sales floor, and one person overseeing six "self-checkout lanes"? While firing any employees who actually stick around long enough to start making decent wages and offering to hire them back at starting salaries? It's not just SCOTUS, it's not just this city's deal, it's endemic throughout America that we keep allowing companies who only exist to make money to sweet talk us with promises of all kinds of civil good and then act surprised when they instead opt to make money.
posted by Legomancer at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


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