Friday, June 24, 2005

The Victory Against IKEA

Sometimes the good guys win the political battle:

Veterans of the IKEA battle have words of advice for Connecticut residents who may lose their homes because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to benefit private developers: Keep fighting.

"If they stick together, they can fight it," said Albert L. Jones, 83, a retired custodian who battled to keep his house at 59 Pleasant St., where he has lived about 60 years.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision was a blow to the owners of 15 homes in a working-class New London, Conn., neighborhood. The homes are slated for destruction to make way for a hotel, office space and upscale homes.
Eminent domain controversies have flared in Westchester in recent years, but none was as incendiary as IKEA's plans to obtain dozens of properties — homes, businesses and two churches — for a 308,000-square-foot furniture store in New Rochelle. The company scrapped its plans in 2001.
But news of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday, affirming that governments can force people to sell land for private development, stirred bad memories for David Newmark, who was a leader in the fight against IKEA.

"It's a step backward," said Newmark, president of Vernon Devices, a business on Plain Avenue, where the store would have been built.

New Rochelle did not use eminent domain to obtain land for IKEA, but the city administration considered the idea. . . .

Throughout the New Rochelle controversy, City Council members said they hoped IKEA could reach agreements to buy all the properties willingly. The city was eager for the sales tax revenue that the project promised, seeing it as a way to improve services like police protection for all of New Rochelle.

But the council members held throughout the discussions that they had not made up their minds and were listening to residents' concerns.
And in the end, that helped kill the project — not just those who wanted to keep their homes and businesses, but Larchmont and Mamaroneck residents who objected to what they saw as a traffic nightmare. IKEA said it was New Rochelle's demand that the company build a ramp off Interstate 95 to the project that made it unworkable.