You’d think we might have learned something from the disastrous Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London. The botched case threw a harsh ray of light on what happens when you allow government officials to begin snatching up the private property of citizens for “public benefit” rather than actual public use. The few supporters of the decision tended to discount the concerns of critics who worried that the ruling introduced an ominous slippery slope for other politicians who might wish to use the power of the state to reshape the nation as they thought best. (And if they or their friends made a few bucks in the process, all the better.)
We may have run up against an attempt at just such a scenario in Connecticut, where Governor Dannel Malloy was been very quietly working on a new policy which would allow him to use the auspices of a public transit authority to begin grabbing up picturesque, suburban neighborhoods near railroad and bus stations and converting them into more “efficient and profitable” high density development zones. (From the City Journal)
Like other New England states, Connecticut has a vigorous tradition of home rule. But, tired of having to deal with pesky local officials, Governor Dannel Malloy quietly introduced legislation that would create a quasi-public agency—the harmless-sounding Transit Corridor Development Authority. The TCDA would direct so-called transit-oriented development (TOD)—typically mixed-use, high-density construction around rail and bus stops. Malloy’s original bill gave the TCDA broad powers, including the authority to use eminent domain to seize property within a half-mile of transit stops. It also mandated that local officials comply with TCDA decisions. There was so little conversation about the new authority before the bill reached the legislature that even the state’s transportation commissioner hadn’t heard of it.
TOD advocates assume that local authorities are ignoring the potential of transit when they nix high-density development or require developments to provide parking. But local officials see things differently. Draw a half-mile circle around the Metro-North rail stations in Fairfield County, Connecticut—sometimes called the “Gold Coast,” and including towns like Greenwich, New Canaan, and Darien—and you quickly see why officials and residents demanded changes to Malloy’s bill. The land around these stations is some of the most valuable in the country; current development conforms to the quiet, quaint character that attracted many residents. These communities have used their local prerogative to remain suburban. Through the TCDA, Malloy could have changed that, imposing high-density development along the rail line.
The good news in this story is that the proposal was brought to the attention of the public before it was finalized and the general outcry led to some modifications. But it didn’t eliminate the TCDA entirely. As amended, the agency could no longer simply condemn properties which don’t match the Governor’s vision of a better Connecticut without any input from the owners, but other disturbing possibilities remain. If local authorities designate a particular location as a transit stop, the TCDA could still wind up moving in and “redesigning” the neighborhood, even if it destroys the atmosphere desired by the residents. Further, once under state control, there seems to be no provision preventing the agency from retaining control of the properties indefinitely and even charging rent for their use.
This isn’t the nation’s first introduction to Malloy’s peculiar traits. He previously made news by banning official state travel to places which ensure religious liberty. That, combined with many other public appearances, continue to fuel suspicions that he’s seriously considering a run for the White House. The attempt at sneaking in the TCDA in his home state is probably a good indication of the governing philosophy Malloy would bring to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Top down control and a reduction in the power of the states and local municipalities is a hallmark of progressive theory. Connecticut’s governor seems to be a perfect poster child for those principles.