An entire working class neighborhood could be removed by eminent domain and replaced with a $200 million high-end outlet mall if city officials in West Haven, Connecticut, get their way.
Family homes and small businesses would be among the structures seized and torn down to make way for luxury shops, hotels and restaurants to be built by wealthy developers Sheldon Gordon and Ty Miller.
“[My youngest son] said, ‘Mommy, why are you letting these people take our home?’ I said it’s not up to me,” West Haven home owner Janet Rodriguez told The Daily Signal. “It’s up to the people who have the power and the money.”
Rodriguez and her husband, Fernando, are part of Develop Don’t Destroy West Haven, a group of homeowners fighting the eminent domain threat. The immigrants from Ecuador would lose their modest home if the massive development, called The Haven, gets approved. They say they would have to move out of the city because the offer on their home isn’t high enough.
The ‘Club’ of Eminent Domain
Also torn down to make way for The Haven would be Hallock’s, a successful appliance store that has operated in one form or another since the 1800s. Interestingly enough, Hallock’s owner Jack Fast told The New Haven Register that he does not oppose The Haven but he has some problems with the tactics.
“It’s a club that’s already swinging as a threat, if we don’t accept what’s offered,” Fast said of eminent domain.
Fast told The Register that he had actually traveled to Palm Beach to meet with Gordon, but he said Gordon is not offering what Fast needs to keep the business operating elsewhere.
“You should not be in the business of paving the road to take the Hallock’s from Hallock’s and turn around and give it to Haven South for a fancier store and a parking lot,” Fast said of the city of West Haven and its redevelopment agency.
Fast’s family has run Hallock’s, which sells appliances, out of a warehouse for 75 years. The business itself started as a hardware store in the 19th century.
“This is a historic business,” Hallock’s lawyer, Peter Olson, told The Register. “They’re trying to take our property and turn it over to somebody else, to run a retail business.”
In addition to shops and restaurants, The Haven also will include a kayak launch and a luxury hotel.
Mayor: Development Will Bring Tax Revenue
“This will make West Haven a destination place,” Mayor Edward O’Brien told the newspaper. He added it would generate $3 million a year in tax revenue and create 1,200 jobs.
Construction of The Haven would require the removal of an entire road — Water Street. Also torn down to make way for the upscale shops would be a Citgo gas station and the S&S minimart, which are owned by partners Sheik Hossain and Saed Ahmed, both immigrants from Bangladesh. The two said around 10 people will lose their jobs if their businesses are taken.
“We’re dependent on this business,” Sheik told The Register. “If they take this from us, we are jobless.”
He added, “You spend your whole life investing in something, and someone says, ‘We’re going to take it.’ We don’t have other skills, we’re older. We can’t just go and work somewhere else.”
He said he wouldn’t oppose eminent domain if the city were building a school or a hospital.
“But everyone agrees it is a bad idea to build a mall,” Sheik said. “They all say, ‘No, we hate eminent domain.’”
Another local resident, Robert McGinnity, said Gordon and Miller had made an offer on a house he has lived in for 50 years that was far below market value.
“I’m just one of their peasants,” McGinnity complained. “They just come and take my property. Why don’t I get the same treatment? I’ve been living here with my family 50 years.”
Rodriguez, Sheik, McGinnity and Ahmed are part of Develop Don’t Destroy West Haven, which is working with the Institute for Justice, a legal rights group.
The Institute is very familiar with the area. West Haven is just 50 miles from New London, where the legal group fought and lost a battle against eminent domain in the landmark case Kelo vs. City of New London in 2005. That was the case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional for cities to use eminent domain to seize land turn it over to private developers.