In Newington, my lifelong home, there is increasing concern about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal establishing a statewide transit development authority and its intentions to oversee his ambitious transportation plan.
This proposal is not a friend of Newington.
Recently, some improvements have been made to H.B. 6851, including fostering better dialogue with town officials and providing memorandums of agreement (MOAs) before this new state bureaucracy takes over town land. The updated language allows towns and regional planning organizations to oversee any transitions – and, fairly, it removes the harshest eminent domain properties that initially existed.
I joined fellow lawmakers Reps. Bill Aman and Gail Lavielle in tackling this issue head-on. We saw a swarm of bipartisan local support first, followed by a couple of senators who were determined to change the proposal.
This might be the best version of the bill since it came down from the governor’s office and pushed through the legislature by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President’s offices. But it isn’t good enough for me, and it isn’t good enough for Newington.
This would be a much better bill if it were dead.
Newington, which already has limited open space, could fall victim to this transit authority under the governor’s plan. Because of the new CTfastrak corridor running through town, wetlands near Starr Park, or property surrounding the Willard Avenue and West Hill Road intersection could face transit-related development. This is not something I am willing to sit back and allow.
Preserving open space has always been a top priority for me, and now that I am serving the people of Newington at the Capitol, it becomes all the more imperative. Preserving open space doesn’t adhere to one political party or the next; however, it adheres to Newington standards. Whether it’s Mill Pond Park or the private backyard of one of our neighbors, most Newington residents would agree: eminent domain, even watered down, is still a terrible tool.
Proponents of the governor’s bill will say there is no reason for worry, citing the new language which they believe addresses these concerns. They will say a good government with the greater good in mind will not harm its citizens.
Is that true? Why not ask the four private bus companies – Collins Bus Service Inc., Dattco Inc., Nason Partners Inc., and the New Britain Transportation Co. – who recently had their rights seized from the Department of Transportation because of the busway expansion? This wasn’t even tangible property, like land or buildings or equipment or facilities. It was intangible – something you couldn’t touch or see – and now it belongs to the state.
Or what about the 400-acre property in eastern Connecticut seized by state transportation officials 28 years ago? The DOT planned an expressway through Bolton, Andover and Coventry but abandoned that idea, along with private property owners’ chances of holding onto their land.
In the nationally-recognized Supreme Court case of Kelo V. City of New London, the dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas said, “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.”
Yes, the governor’s bill, as it is written now, would give more power to local governments – and I am fully supportive of local control. We need to make sure our local officials believe in preserving Newington’s open space the same way we do. But this proposal will still put our local elected officials against the ropes, and the bully state government needing to expand its transportation blueprint will be more than happy to take some swings for its agenda.
Here’s my agenda: Making sure state government doesn’t have the opportunity or persuasive power to tell towns just like Newington what’s best for locals. Newington cannot afford to lose the small portion of open space it has left and property owners shouldn’t have transportation gurus knocking on their doors, so they can pitch an idea. I came to Hartford to stand up for Newington values, not the urban-focused government’s values.
Let’s stop this bill and retain the Newington – and all the other communities statewide – we all know and love.
State Rep. Gary Byron is a first term legislator representing the 27th Assembly District.