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The change in leadership in the city's development association is more than a break with a troubling past; it is a necessary part of the evolution of New London's still new mayor-led form of government.
On Friday the Renaissance City Development Association (formerly the New London Development Corp.) is expected to elect New London attorney Linda Mariani as president. It is anticipated that Joe Grillo, a developer, will assume the position of first vice president and Ron Nossek, a CPA and former councilor, the position of second vice president.
All three officers live in New London, a change from the history of an NLDC dominated by officers who lived outside the city. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has made it a priority to bring the development agency under the control of city residents.
Exiting as president will be Michael Joplin, leader of the development corporation since 2002. While begun with the best of intentions - redeveloping the Fort Trumbull peninsula to expand the city tax base - NLDC's work went terribly wrong. An aggressive use of eminent domain to seize the property of homeowners who refused to sell led to a protracted legal fight and a landmark, and widely criticized, 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that brought infamy upon the city. The court found that NLDC's economic development plans met the constitutional allowance that property could be seized for "public use."
But redevelopment efforts had stalled during the years of litigation. No new construction has taken place since the 2005 ruling. Given that history, the change in leadership is appropriate and provides the opportunity for a fresh start. Also departing are First Vice President Karl-Erik Sternlof and Second Vice President John Johnson.
The changes are far more than symbolic, with the RCDA moving into the city's planning offices and forming a close relationship with the administration; at least that is the mayor's vision.
"I believe that city development should be done directly by the city of New London. I believe that city land should be controlled by the city … and that any decision-making process as to how we engage in economic development or use our property should be solely the responsibility of the elected representatives of this city," Mayor Finizio said in a May 24 interview. "I feel the opportunity is there now to reassert the city's role in the process."
The mayor said the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signaled it will not let a rigid interpretation of the Municipal Development Plan, negotiated between the state and NLDC in the late 1990s, hinder future development.
Mayor Finizio passionately disagrees with the Kelo v. City of New London ruling and considers it fundamentally wrong to seize the private property of one individual and turn it over to another to drive economic growth. He envisions using that portion of the property seized by eminent domain for public projects. Mayor Finizio cited as possible uses a desalinization plant to tap Long Island Sound as a potable water source, a wind farm or solar panel field, or a municipal parking garage with ground-floor retail and roof-top solar panels making it energy self-sufficient.
"It is a way to in effect render the Kelo case moot because we are no longer engaged in the idea that the eminent domain properties were taken only to transfer to some private business. They would be (used instead for) economic development directly run by and directly owned by the city," the mayor said.
While his intent to correct what he sees as a wrong may be noble, limiting development options is not in the city's interest. New London needs private development and the resulting tax revenues. If Mayor Finizio's ideas for that portion of the peninsula make sense, fine, but don't force the issue just to salve old wounds.
The name of the development group has changed and the officers replaced, but no one is getting their homes back.