Homeowners stand firm despite high-court ruling
'They'll have to rip us' from our property, says man who had 1st home seized in '70s
World Net Daily | June 29 2005
Michael Cristofaro, one of the Connecticut homeowners on the losing end of the Supreme Court's recent decision allowing a city government to seize residents' property for a private development, says his family and the six others are not about to give up their fight.
"If all fails, we'll chain ourselves to our houses," Cristofaro told "Joseph Farah's WorldNetDaily RadioActive." "They'll have to rip us apart from it. We'll fight them tooth and nail."
Cristofaro's family has lived in New London, Conn., for 43 years, but the 5-4 ruling last week allows the city to push ahead with its plan to destroy the homes to make room for a hotel and office complex.
Like the Cristofaro family, many of the affected citizens have deep roots in their community, including a married couple in their 80s who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years.
The debate in the Supreme Court case centered on the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for "public use." Until now, that has been interpreted to mean projects such as roads, schools and urban renewal. But New London officials argued that the private development plans served a public purpose of boosting economic growth, even though the area was not blighted.
Cristofaro said the seven homeowners will meet later this week with members of the Insitute for Justice – the public interest group defending them – to consider their options.
The Supreme Court decision came as a jolt.
"I was devastated. I was just stunned," he said. " ... Those are rights the founding fathers gave us, and the Supreme Court stripped us of them."
But Cristofaro said his parents, Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro, and the other homeowners have been heartened by the response from citizens across the nation.
"I was amazed about the outrage, the response we've received from fellow Americans," he said. " ... That has made us feel like our fight wasn't for nothing."
Although the Supreme Court's majority opinion went against the homeowners, it affirmed that the Fifth Amendment ensures the government must give just compensation.
But Cristofaro says the city warned that if they filed for just compensation, it would appeal and demand back rent.
Cristofaro said that when approached by the city five years ago, the families were not offered anything close to fair market value for their properties.
His parents were offered $60,000, Cristofaro said, but the house could have been sold on the market for about $280,000.
Later in 2000, just before the Institute of Justice took the case, the city made a final offer of $150,000, he said. But even the city's tax appraisal valued it at $215,000.
"There's no such thing as fair compensation, if that's what they consider fair compensation," Cristofaro said. "They don't want to share any of that [future] wealth with the homes they are destroying."
But Cristofaro said the issue is not money but the right of a citizen to have ownership over his own property.
"We had fond memories of that house," he said, noting his father had transferred from their first home special plants that he wanted to leave for his grandchildren.
Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro came to New London from Italy in 1962 to pursue the American dream, their son said, and purchased their first home.
Ten years later, that home was taken by the city, Michael Cristofaro said, "under the pretense of building a new sea wall" to help prevent flooding. But the seawall never materialized, and the land went to a developer.
The family purchased a second home, in 1971, and now the city wants that one, too.
"This time they didn't lie," Cristofaro said. "They said straight they are taking our property to put up a hotel and conference center."
The family's response was equally direct: "We said, 'You did this to us once before. We're not going anywhere; this home is not for sale.'"
About 100 families initially were involved in the battle, attending public meetings where they were told the city was in an economic downturn and needed to build up its tax base.
Cristofaro said the city used scare tactics, warning homeowners they needed to sign immediately or they would get nothing for their property.
Many of the homeowners were elderly and decided not to put up a fight, Cristofaro said, but the remaining seven declared "there's not enough money they could give us. We wanted to stay in our homes."
Cristofaro noted that the proposed development actually includes new residential homes.
"During negotiations, when it looked like we had no choice, I said, 'Give me one of your homes, so I can stay in the neighborhood.' They said they couldn't because they didn't know what the value of the property would be."
Cristofaro said the city escalated its pressure on the homeowners, hiring real estate agents who showed up at all hours insisting there was no choice but to sign over ownership.
Also, the road to some homes was blocked, and demolition began on the structures around them, he said. Bulldozers were parked across the street and the engines were revved in the early morning hours for no apparent reason.
Cristofaro, awaiting the meeting this week with the Institute of Justice, said he doesn't know what the next step will be, but he's encouraging concerned citizens to write to their representatives.
"It's heartening to know that our nation is standing behind us," he said