Going after Grandma's House


In New London, Connecticut, the government is currently in court defending its inalienable right to evict 83-year-old Wilhelmina Dery from a property that's been in her family for more than 100 years.

The city's historic Fort Trumbull area, where Dery lives, became a target for development in 1998, when Viagra-maker Pfizer decided to build a $270 million research facility next door. The problem, say planners, is that they need to increase the "radii" of the road that surrounds Dery's property so that a private developer can build a mecca of upscale apartments, marinas, retail shops, and restaurants. There will also be a conference center for use by Pfizer.

There's just no place in such a grand plan for Dery's quarter-acre property, which contains four impeccably maintained houses. It has "no reuse value," according to the planners, a fate it shares with 114 other properties, the majority of which have already been destroyed. Six others have joined Dery in holding out. They have teamed with the D.C.-based Institute for Justice to sue the city and the New London Development Corporation.

The city's position is starkly opportunistic. More than half of New London's property can't be taxed and the remaining 46 percent is fully developed, points out NLDC spokesman Christopher Riley. Local pols can only grab more money if they increase the city's tax base by upgrading existing property. Officials get dollar signs in their eyes, down to the penny, when they look to Fort Trumbull. The development "will result in a potential increase of taxes of $2,241,684.98," city lawyers note in a court document.