A Long Road
Susette Kelo Lost Her Rights,
But She Will Keep Her Home
By Scott Bullock
Susette Kelo’s little pink cottage—the home that was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case and a national symbol of the fight against eminent domain abuse—will be spared from the wrecking ball. Faced with eviction and the destruction of her beloved home, Susette put forward an idea that she had originally proposed when first threatened with eminent domain abuse and even before IJ became involved in the case: preserving the home and moving it. When she first proposed this idea, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) rejected it. Now, the City, NLDC and the State of Connecticut have agreed to the move. While the precise location has not yet been determined, the house may be moved to or near Pequot Avenue, which is where the home originally stood before it was moved to Fort Trumbull more than 100 years ago. There, the home, like Kelo’s property in Fort Trumbull, will be very close to the Long Island Sound.
The City and the remaining homeowners had been at an impasse. The City gave them a May 31 deadline to accept a settlement or face eviction. Two of the homeowners, Susette Kelo and the Cristofaro family, refused. Another well-known property owner in the case, the Dery family, reached a settlement with the City because of the family’s changed circumstances. In March of this year, Wilhelmina Dery, the woman who had lived in her home in Fort Trumbull her entire life, passed away, and her husband, Charles, was unable to keep up the house. Despite the Supreme Court decision, Mrs. Dery was able to spend her remaining time in her home, and she died just a few feet away from where she was born the year World War I ended.
"The Kelo case was truly history-making.
It touched off a firestorm of controversy and a national grassroots backlash, which continues
to transform the nation."
The decision to leave Fort Trumbull was a very difficult one for Susette to make. Threatened by a tyrannical City Council that refused to let her stay where she was, her only other real option was to engage in civil disobedience and let the City try to evict her from her home. But that meant the chaos of a forced removal—something her five sons did not want to see her go through—and, at the end of the day, the bulldozing of the home that means so much to her and the rest of the nation. With those “choices,” she decided to revive her compromise proposal of several years ago. Because of the shifting political dynamic in the wake of the Kelo decision, this time the powers-that-be accepted her proposal. Also, as Susette points out, not only will she be able to continue to live in her cherished home, she will also once again live in a neighborhood rather than a demolition zone. The home will continue to serve as a tribute to her brave struggle and as a powerful symbol of the fight to stop land-grabs by cities and their developer allies. While no firm details are yet in place, Susette’s home is expected to be moved sometime in the next year.
While Susette’s agreement signifies her deep attachment to her home, the agreement reached with the other remaining homeowner, the Cristofaros, reflects the family’s deep affiliation with the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, where they have lived for more than 30 years. Although the Cristofaros will lose their current home, under the agreement, the City and the NLDC will support an application for more housing in Fort Trumbull, and the Cristofaro family has an exclusive right to purchase one of the homes at a fixed price. Moreover, a plaque will be installed in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to commemorate the loss of family matriarch Margherita Cristofaro, who passed away while the battle against eminent domain abuse occurred in New London. The City also has agreed to move the trees that father Pasquale Cristofaro transplanted 30 years ago, when the previous Cristofaro home was taken by eminent domain.
The Kelo case was truly history-making. It touched off a firestorm of controversy and a national grassroots backlash, which, as documented by Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson in our story on page 6, continues to transform the nation. And it all started with a little pink home, which will still proudly stand with Susette Kelo and her husband inside.
Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.
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