Susette Kelo taken in front of her little pink house circa 2008 . Scott Mahan photo.
Sunday we went into Philadelphia to see the movie Little Pink House, which I had written about recently.
Mary Cortes from Cramer Hill, Camden, NJ on left with another Cramer Hill resident on the right at the Little Pink House Screening in Philadelphia with the Institute for Justice.
The Institute for Justice in Washington, DC was kind enough to sponsor an event reuniting a lot of groups who had fought eminent domain for private gain. I was so happy to reunite with my original Save Ardmore Coalition friends and to see Mary Cortes and some of the Cramer Hill, Camden folks. I was thrilled to spend time with Scott Bullock, who is now President of the Institute for Justice and Susette Kelo, about whom the movie is about. I had met and spent time with Susette Kelo when she was going to the United States Supreme Court and after.
Little Pink House coming to town brought back a lot of memories. Eminent domain should be a four letter word. Here is a re-cap of what the movie is about:
April 27 – May 3: Philadelphia, PA: Landmark Ritz East
Based on a true story, Little Pink House is about a small-town paramedic named Susette Kelo leaves a bad marriage, and starts over in a new town. She buys a rundown cottage with a gorgeous water view. She fixes it up and paints it pink. Then she discovers powerful politicians want to bulldoze her blue-collar neighborhood for the benefit of a multi-billion dollar corporation.
With the help of a young lawyer named Scott Bullock, Susette emerges as the reluctant leader of her neighbors in an epic battle that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspires a nation, and helps millions of Americans protect their homes.
Most of you probably have no idea what this means. Or care. But I think you should, even more so after seeing the movie. It is the movie about the 2005 United States Supreme Court Case Kelo vs. New London, and what Susette Kelo and her Fort Trumbull neighbors endured at the hands of Pfizer , the State of Connecticut and New London, Connecticut.
My dear friend Sherry Tillman (left) with Susette Kelo on Sunday at the Little Pink House screening.
Little Pink House could happen to any of us. And as I sat through the movie I was struck again by the B.S. spouted by politicians salivating and greedy for development (it’s universally sleazy.) How they were doing this for the residents and how it would be so wonderful….and what did they do? They stole people’s homes, bulldozed them, and handed it all on a silver platter to Pfizer (it really makes you despise big B.S. development plans all over again after seeing this movie.)
In 2009, Pfizer left New London. Yes, left. People’s lives and homes were destroyed for them. These were every day working and middle class people. The heart of their community was bulldozed into oblivion. Stolen by eminent domain for private gain.
Here is a New York Times article about Pfizer’s final bad act in this play of misery and human suffering:
N.Y. / REGION
Pfizer to Leave City That Won Land-Use Case
By PATRICK McGEEHANNOV. 12, 2009
From the edge of the Thames River in New London, Conn., Michael Cristofaro surveyed the empty acres where his parents’ neighborhood had stood, before it became the crux of an epic battle over eminent domain.
“Look what they did,” Mr. Cristofaro said on Thursday. “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.”
That sentiment has been echoing around New London since Monday, when Pfizer, the giant drug company, announced it would leave the city just eight years after its arrival led to a debate about urban redevelopment that rumbled through the United States Supreme Court, and reset the boundaries for governments to seize private land for commercial use.
Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.
The announcement stirred up resentment and bitterness among some local residents. They see Pfizer as a corporate carpetbagger that took public money, in the form of big tax breaks, and now wants to run.
In Chester County, many of you should remember the case of Coatesville trying to steal the Saha farm for a golf course and whatnot. That was eminent domain for private gain and I saw the Sahas often during the time we were fighting eminent domain in Ardmore. Dick and Nancy Saha were wonderful folks. I have not run into them since moving to Chester County, and hope someday our paths will cross again.
Here are a couple of articles that will refresh your memory on the Saha case:
During the two-hour hearing, much of the testimony referred to the battle between Dick and Nancy Saha and the city of Coatesville.
Prior to the hearing, Sen. Jim Gerlach, R-44th of East Brandywine, who is chairman of the committee, said he wants to establish whether one municipality can condemn land in another municipality without that municipality’s approval and whether eminent domain can be used for nontraditional uses such as for recreation centers.
The testimony which began with Greg Lownes, the nephew of Dick and Nancy Saha….
“We are not against the revitalization of Coatesville. What Coatesville does with their property, we don’t care. Dick (Saha) has a business in Coatesville. He has a vested interest. But we object to the city taking the Saha’s land for a for-profit business,” Lownes said.
In his testimony, Lownes said he would like laws to be passed that would not allow one municipality to condemn land in another municipality without that municipality’s approval.
The Sahas beat city hall quite literally. But is was a long, ugly, drawn out legal battle.
Also note the 2013 article in the Daily Times where the land acquired that the Saha land was supposed to be added to. The land was being auctioned off. Here is the article from then:
Chester County land sale marks end of long battle for Saha family, Delco natives
By Ginger Dunbar 8/13/13
The Saha family – Delaware County natives – rocketed into the headlines a decade ago when they dug in to fight a municipal land grab in an eminent domain case that sparked national headlines.
The Sahas’ struggle with the City of Coatesville centered over the city’s desire to use a part of their family farm for a golf course development.
The Sahas, who came to Chester County from Drexel Hill, decided to fight City Hall. And they won.
They stopped the golf course plan. Elected officials from Coatesville pushing the project were ousted by voters. The city administration was replaced.
An auction Tuesday hopes to dispose of the property surrounding the Saha tract that were acquired in efforts to build the golf course and related projects.
A city property in Valley township is 22.5 acres of land with old stone farm home and is zoned as conservation land. The property is at 175 South Mount Airy Road. The property, officials said, is ideal for agricultural uses.
The city property in West Brandywine township is 63.5 acres of vacant land that is zoned as agricultural and residential land. The property is located off North Manor Road (Route 82).
Dick and Nancy Saha moved to their farm on Mount Airy Road in 1971. They said they worked hard for 15 years to make their home live able and added heating and plumbing. They raised five children on the farm.
In April 1999 they said city officials knocked on their door with legal papers for the intention to take their 38 acre farm land through eminent domain. For the six years that followed, the Sahas said their fight against the city cost them more than $300,000 in legal fees.
There are stories like the Sahas’ from coast to coast. Eminent domain for private gain has been addressed on a state level in many states, but not on a federal level.
Eminent Domain for private gain is legal stealing, economic segregation, and more often than not, class warfare. When you receive a notice of a taking, your world turns inside out, not just upside down. At first you feel like you are in the battle completely and utterly alone. But you aren’t alone. There are a lot of us out there.
I didn’t set out in life to become a grassroots activist on any level, but eminent domain is an issue that, as an American, I found I simply could not ignore. I loved Ardmore, where eminent domain threatened a block of small businesses in a local historic business district. Ardmore to me was a quintessential old fashioned main street-oriented town. It represents the bygone days of small town America.
The township (Lower Merion) had declared this block “blighted,” and it intended to acquire these properties in a certified historic district for inclusion in a mixed-use development project to be owned by a private party.
One of the first lessons we learned as SAC was that when you are fighting a battle like this, you become an instant pariah. SAC next contacted the Institute for Justice and newly formed Castle Coalition, who gave us a crash course in grassroots activism.
We held rallies, protests and community meetings. We wrote letters to the newspapers until we had writer’s cramp. We took every opportunity to speak at public meetings. We lobbied government officials on a state and national level.
In November 2005, we watched as five new faces against eminent domain were elected to the 14-member Board of Commissioners.
During this whole time before and after the election, we had the good fortune to finally get some national and even international media publicity. We networked further with other eminent domain fighting citizens locally and nationally. Members also gave testimony before both the Pennsylvania Senate and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. We submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congress and became part of the record on HR 4128.
In March 2006, the five new commissioners who came to office promising to end the specter of eminent domain did just that: they proposed and passed a resolution to end eminent domain. The businesses were free.
I will not lie. It was an exhausting process fighting eminent domain. I went to so many municipal and other meetings during this time, that even today I have a hard time going to meetings.
We won our battle in Ardmore and the Sahas won in Coatesville, and Long Branch, NJ won….because Susette Kelo lost the U.S. Supreme Court Case by one vote. This of course also demonstrates what happens when administrations stack the United States Supreme Court, doesn’t it?
Seeing this movie on Sunday, and listening to Scott Bullock and Susette Kelo again, brought all of this back. Susette and I spoke before and after the movie and I said I thought she was so brave and amazing to keep telling her story but I imagined it was incredibly hard some days to sit through showings of this beautiful film. She said it was.
Recently I wrote a post about Lower Merion Township and Main Line Today Magazine and an article I found to be quite the piece of revisionist history. It was another fluff piece on Ardmore.
Main Line Today March, 2018
As Ardmore Prepares for a Revitalization, Some Residents are Hesitant About the Change
Will additions like One Ardmore Place disrupt the town’s way of life? Many locals are divided.
BY MICHAEL BRADLEY
📌None of this is Angela Murray’s fault. Not the giant crane that hovers over the Cricket Avenue parking lot, its American flag billowing in the breeze. Not the 110 apartments rising from a giant hole in the ground. Not the upheaval for residents and business owners alike. Not the possible traffic congestion. None of it.
“People have blamed me,” says Murray, who’s been Lower Merion Township’s assistant director of building and planning for 16 years. “But I think it meets a need that was pressing.”….The allocated state money was supposed to go for the station, but when Amtrak balked at allowing apartments so close to its tracks, the plan—which included replacing some buildings along Lancaster Avenue south of the station—lost momentum. Meanwhile, the Save Ardmore folks filed lawsuits and protested the idea mightily. “Amtrak didn’t want people living so close to the rail line because it didn’t think it would be safe,” Lower Merion’s Murray says. “They were concerned about people throwing things out of windows onto the track.”📌
So….this is quite the piece in favor of Ardmore development. I don’t know who the writer is but my, he was sure led by the nose down a primrose development path.
I also take issue with the latest attempt at glossing over eminent domain in Ardmore. But then I also do not quite understand the article love affair with Angela Murray of Lower Merion Township, but perhaps she had a hand in the placement of the article?
Lower Merion Township can not unring the bells of the past.
Back in the day, as a member of the ORIGINAL Save Ardmore Coalition, Ms. Murray was awful to us. She was not nice, she was perennially unpleasant. However she wasn’t alone. You were either with them or against them. If you were against them, well then you were the enemy.
Those of us who reunited from the original Save Ardmore Coalition on Sunday remember what it was like. It was at times, awful.
But also on Sunday we realized what we were a part of with Susette and all of the other folks who the Institute for Justice helped back then.
Also see the huge interview on Megyn Kelly on Today. 44 states changed their eminent domain laws as a result of the Kelo Case. So many people’s lives have been destroyed by eminent domain. Real people. Nothing in the abstract. It almost happened to my friends in Ardmore.
Ironically today, the current governor of Connecticut announced jobs coming to Connecticut…including New London. But it won’t bring back the houses and displaced lives.
I will note that the whiff of eminent domain is once more in the air in Lower Merion Township. Why? because Lower Merion School District is searching for land they can beg, borrow, or steal to expand. Why? A story for another day but the Cliff Notes version is all of the development there has caused the schools to (shocker) get over-crowded, right? One place mentioned in a recent Main Line Times article is Stoneleigh. Otherwise known as the Haas Estate in Villanova that was given to Natural Lands to preserve the open space.
Also don’t forget the attempted (and failed) eminent domain taking by a prior administration of West Vincent Township. Of Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show. It was real. It happened. And because of the path Susette Kelo laid down by going to the United States Supreme Court, this also was a failed taking attempt.
See 2012 East Coast Equestrian: Township Tries, Fails to Take Ludwig’s Corner Show Grounds by Eminent Domain
WNPR: ‘Little Pink House’ Hits The Big Screen, Reviving New London Eminent Domain Saga
By HARRIET JONES • APR 24, 2018
A landmark Supreme Court case over eminent domain and people’s right to private property is back in the headlines with the new movie “Little Pink House.” It tells the story of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, which was the scene of an epic struggle between a municipality that wanted to take property for the purpose of economic development, and the homeowners who resisted every step of the way….“You go to work every day, you pay your bills, you’re a taxpayer, you’re a law-abiding citizen, you keep your yard clean, grow your vegetables in your little garden, raise your family — and to have this happen to people who were just trying to be simple people and live their lives was really wrong,” said Kelo in a recent interview with Connecticut Public Radio.
If you are interested in learning more about what the Institute for Justice does, check out their website. IJ.org . Also check out the Little Pink House website to find our where the movie is playing or if you can get a screening where you live.
Little Pink House is more than a movie. It happened.