Twenty-three years after the Supreme Court issued its controversial ruling in Kelo v. New London, Connecticut’s state government still has broad powers to seize private land through eminent domain.

A report released by the Office of Legislative Research on August 23, 2023, documents the authority the state and six state agencies have to seize private land either through eminent domain or condemnation.

The state has the ability to take private land to expand state institutions, add to various state education properties, conduct urban remediation, update water supply infrastructure, add or expand airports, build armories, and to allow the United States to condemn federal land such as post offices and courthouses.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) can seize private land for a number of reasons, including for the purpose of building or altering highways, for developing roads or bridges for military purposes, for constructing drainage, and for preserving historic monuments located adjacent to highways. It can also seize land adjacent to highways to construct rights-of-way or to build rest stops or other conveniences. Additionally, the DOT can use eminent domain to acquire billboards located near highways, to condemn junkyards that are visible from a highway, and to construct commuter parking.

The agency also has the authority to take property through condemnation as part of the Route 11 Greenway.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) can also seize land to create a linear park along Route 11. Additionally, the agency can use eminent domain to carry out projects for parks, to abate a threat of disease, to aid watershed soil conservation, to conserve endangered species habitats and protect other forms of environments, maintain state dams, and to acquire open space for public recreation.

The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has the authority to use eminent domain to develop the land around the Connecticut Capitol Center.

The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) can use eminent domain to remediate pollution on commercial or industrial property and lease or sell it to promote business growth or redevelopment.

The Department of Housing (DOH) can use eminent domain to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

Finally, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) can use condemnation to acquire property for the Adriaen’s Landing Project, a “mixed-use economic development project in downtown Hartford.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo, which upheld the state’s authority to seize private property from one owner and transfer it for another for economic development—in that case a New London redevelopment project primarily benefitting Pfizer which was never built—47 states reformed their eminent domain laws to prevent a similar situation from happening.

As one of the states to enact reform after the Kelo decision, Connecticut legislators passed SB 167 in 2007. Though intended to reform eminent domain, the law didn’t make the circumstances that led to Susette Kelo’s home being taken through eminent domain illegal. It reformed the process by which towns can take property through eminent domain, including by not allowing towns to take property private property if their primary goal is to increase tax revenue and raising the voting thresholds by which towns must pass votes to take property to two-thirds, but did not ban the process outright.

The Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian non-profit law firm that represented Kelo in her case, said the law “offers no substantive property rights protections because when cities are determined to see a project approved, they can easily assert an alternative “primary purpose” for a condemnation and are usually of one mind when it comes to voting.”

IJ gave Connecticut’s eminent domain laws a D grade in a report surveying the laws all 50 states.

The subject of eminent domain has come before the legislature several times since the state’s post-Kelo reform.

Most recently, several bills that would have prohibited both the state and municipalities from using eminent domain for commercial purposes were referred to committees during the 2023 legislative session. HB 5036 was referred to the Joint Committee on Planning and Development but no action was taken on it.

Two similar bills, which also would have prohibited using eminent domain for commercial purposes, were referred to the planning and development committee during the 2021 legislative session. Other bills to abolish or limit eminent domain have appeared in 2019, 2017, 2015, 2011, and 2009. None have ever made it through committee.

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An advocate for transparency and accountability, Katherine has over a decade of experience covering government. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine and her...

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