Land Use

New London, Connecticut, Prosecutes Local Artist for Bamboo It Deems a Blight

Carlos Carrion has been growing bamboo in his yard for three decades; suddenly it's a crime.

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Carlos Carrion, an artist who lives in New London, Connecticut, has been growing bamboo on his property for 30 years. Only recently has the city deemed it a crime. Depending on whom you ask, the city's sudden concerns about Carrion's bamboo patch stem from his failure to maintain it properly or from his outspokenness as a critic of eminent domain abuse and arbitrary land use regulation.

Carrion was an opponent of the misbegotten redevelopment plan that led to the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, which upheld the use of eminent domain to condemn homes that supposedly stood in the way of an economic revival that never materialized. More recently, he has turned his attention to the city's blight ordinance, which authorizes criminal fines of up to $250 a day as well as civil fines of up to $100 a day.

Carrion defended Maggie Redfern, deputy director of the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London, who was accused of creating blight by designing an "ecological landscape" featuring native plants in her yard. A blight hearing officer sided with Redfern, declaring her yard "exactly the opposite of a 'neglected or abandoned property.'"

Carrion has had less success defending his bamboo grove, which he says he keeps as a memorial to the Vietnam veteran who gave him the original plants. "I eat it, construct furniture…it's a home for the birds," he said at Redfern's blight hearing. "The bamboo I grow is not invasive. I maintain the plants. It stays within the perimeter of my property, and yet it's considered to be a blight?"

The city deems the bamboo a blight under Section 302.4 of the New London Property Maintenance Code, which prohibits "all grasses, annual plants and vegetation," aside from trees, shrubs, and "cultivated flowers and gardens," that are more than 10 inches high. Because the city says Carrion has failed to comply with the code after repeated warnings, he has been hit with $13,500 in fees and civil penalties, and the cost will climb higher if the criminal prosecution is successful.

Carrion's lawyer, former New London Mayor Daryl Finizio, argues that the bamboo grove does not actually violate the property maintenance code, presumably because it qualifies as a cultivated garden. Carrion says he keeps the plants trimmed back so they do not invade other people's property, a point the city seems to dispute. According to the city's complaint, "Carrion's entire lawn is covered with a thick growth of bamboo, the height of which extends at least 20′, extending above the power lines. The bamboo has also crept into the yard of other homes and was coming into contact with power lines themselves. The bamboo is so thick, it's nearly impossible to traverse through."

Impingement on neighbors' property and entanglement with power lines are legitimate issues that could be addressed by trimming the plants. But the sheer height, breadth, and density of the bamboo seem like purely aesthetic concerns. Whether Carrion's plants constitute a cultivated garden or a bunch of weeds is in the eye of the beholder.

Finizio suggests Carrion's prosecution is punishment for his activism. "It seems inexplicable that suddenly Carlos Carrion and his bamboo have become public enemies No. 1 of the City of New London," he told The Day, a local newspaper. "My client also believes that as an outspoken critic of eminent domain during those public debates in our city, and because of his outspoken involvement in other city blight cases, that he is being targeted in a retributive way by the City of New London."

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  2. “My client also believes that as an outspoken critic of eminent domain during those public debates in our city, and because of his outspoken involvement in other city blight cases, that he is being targeted in a retributive way by the City of New London.”

    Well, yeah. Fuck with the bull’s revenue stream, get the horns.

    1. There’s no evidence in any of the articles that he was involved in any way in previous ED cases. That’s just his lawyer’s say-so.

      1. Actually, it is his client’s belief that he is an outspoken critic. Says so in the first 10 words of Citizen’s quote.

        1. His client’s belief about himself is still not evidence.

          This is the support for the “outspoken ED opponent getting retaliated against” theory:

          – Guy who is getting fined says so
          – Lawyer (aka ex-mayor defeated in previous election by current mayor) says so

          Neither of those is really evidence.

          1. Actually, it is evidence. It might to be unrebuttable evidence, but if you disregard testimony simply because the person offering it not wholly disinterested, it’s hard to think of where you would ever find evidence.

  3. He should go with a racial discrimination angle. That ought to shut the city up.

  4. Look at the picture at the linked local news article. That lawn is a disaster, likely providing homes for not just birds but many pests. Cultivated garden my ass.

    The lawyer seems pretty showboaty if you look through that article, making all sorts of wild claims. And oh, he’s not being ordered to cut down the entire bamboo grove, just the perimeter that interferes with power lines and other properties. Little detail that Reason chose to leave out.

    There is also no evidence that he was actually involved in any previous eminent domain or property rights hearings involving other people, other than this lawyer’s say-so.

    If you look at the NYT article there’s a clue as to why the city is just pursuing this now:

    Still, Kurt Nielsen, who has lived here for 18 years and remembers when the bamboo was just a small patch, questioned the forcefulness of the city’s response.

    Bamboo spreads out. The grove was probably not impinging on power lines and other properties 30 years ago.

    1. I appreciate that REASON is an advocate for the home owner. I don’t want a trite article that reads like a book report.

      1. Reason isn’t supposed to be an advocate, they’re supposed to be reporting facts plus commentary. If they’re just another shill blog then they need to be up front about that.

        1. Um… are you new around here?

            1. Yeah, this schtick smells familiar.

            2. Oh snap.

        2. Reason isn’t supposed to be an advocate, they’re supposed to be reporting facts plus commentary. If they’re just another shill blog then they need to be up front about that.

          Reason is the monthly print magazine of “free minds and free markets.” It covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. Reason provides a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity.

          Sounds like they’re pretty damn upfront to me.

          1. Yes, that’s the commentary part.

            Which does not imply suppressing facts that do not align with their narrative.

            1. Yeah. Reason’s the only organization that omits information. Or more specifically uses the information that they feel is relevant.

            2. Hahaha I like you.

    2. Damn you are my new favorite commentator. Thanks for this!

  5. Likely reason why the former mayor (Finizio) is representing this dude and making ridiculous claims about the current mayor’s (Passero) government’s behavior.

    New London Mayoral candidate Michael Passero gets a congratulatory hug from his wife, Mary, as he delivers a victory speech after defeating incumbent Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio in the city’s Democratic primary Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015.

  6. There’s a part of India where the bamboo flowers every 50 years, and the whole place gets overrun by carpets and carpets of rats, rats as far as they eyes can see, who multiply and gorge themselves on the seeds it sheds, and when the seeds are gone they eat all the food they can find until they starve to death, and the people themselves nearly die off from all the horrible famine and horrible rat and rat-corpse plagues.
    .
    My point is, if all that shit happened in New London people would barely notice. New London makes New Haven look like Beverly Hills. Cities in Connecticut are almost unimaginable shitholes.

    1. I’ve only been once on a bus that stopped in Hartford & wanted to get out ASAP.

      1. The respective reputations of New Jersey and Connecticut (ethnic, urban, and industrial vs. WASPy, suburban, and wealthy) in the national zeitgeist is something that has always fascinated me. I’ve long suspected it’s an NYC bias that managed to ingrain itself by way of the national media. The two states are very similar, but if all you know of them is what you see on train rides from Midtown to your colleagues’ homes then it will definitely leave you with the impression that one is quite different than the other.

        1. Never been in either place, but I knew a guy from NJ, and wish I had never met him.

  7. Will it be a surprise when Killdozer arrives in the town center of New London, CT?

  8. I normally side with a homeowner in these cases, but Reason is skipping over a major point. Bamboo may not be Kudzu, but it is a seriously invasive species, and a potentially damaging pest. If all he is doing is trimming, I expect his neighbord ARE getting plants in their yards, as many bamboos spread through underground runners.

    1. It’s now behind a paywall, but I thought I read in the last link that this species isn’t invasive.

      1. It’s actually just a register-wall.

    2. The only invasive species is the bureaucrats working for New London.

  9. The purpose of private property ownership is to be able to do what you want. Otherwise, why own real estate? There is no obligation to meet the tastes, desires, or values of anyone else who does not own the property, as long as it isn’t a danger to the public or the neighbors, or substantially brings down property values (e.g., slaughterhouses, garbage dump). Letting others paint their house purple with yellow polka-dots is the price you pay for being able to paint yours the way you like. If you want standards beyond that, find an HOA.
    Naturally, some consideration of the feelings of the neighbors is wise.
    Bringing in the political process to regulate taste, however, seems the height of foolishness.
    Culver City, CA, once attempted to ban any plants (e.g., roses) that attracted vermin (e.g., insects). It also wanted to ban any vegetation within four feet of the roof of any structure (to prevent rats from getting on the roof). The rats were using the powerlines. The proposed to ban personal property (e.g., vehicles, garden hoses, welcome mats, window curtains, one’s clothing) “that could be seen from the public right of way.” The drafting was awful.
    Selective enforcement and the whims of the code enforcement officer are usually upheld and fines collected.

  10. Carlos Carrion…

    Any relation to Carlos Danger?

  11. If the zombie apocalypse broke out in New London, I hope they don’t try to stop it.

  12. so WHY is the inability of some stranger who has no business on his proerty to wallk through the bamboo grove an issue with the city? Seems to me these eedjits ought be about punishing any uninvited individuals who can’t walk THROUGH his bamboo patch for trespassing. Do the city council also hold that these strangers ought be able to walk through his HOUSE as well?

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