NEW LONDON, Conn. - Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe, and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent-domain project.
There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle, and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.
But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to bring up to 3,169 jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.
Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it "poetic justice."
"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing," said Susette Kelo, lead plaintiff in the landmark property-rights case, Kelo v. New London. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision."
Kelo's iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that now-empty lot, just steps from Connecticut's quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became the center of the nation's best-known land-rights dispute.
New London officials decided they needed Kelo's land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, and research space and a new state park that would complement a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility.
Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2005, the justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development.
The decision was sharply criticized and generated a grassroots backlash. Forty states passed new, protective regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some protesters even tried to turn the tables on now-retired Justice David H. Souter, trying unsuccessfully in 2006 to take his New Hampshire home by eminent domain to build an inn.
In New London, the city's prized development plan has fallen apart as the economy has crumbled.
The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula. But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm could not secure financing, said its president, Marty Jones.
In July, backers halted fund-raising for the project's crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum.
The poor economy meant that donations weren't "keeping pace with expenses," said Coast Guard Foundation president Anne Brengle. She said the group hoped to resume fund-raising in the future.
Overall, proponents say that about two-thirds of the 90-acre site is developed, in part because of a 16-acre, $25 million state park. The other third of the land remains without the promised housing, office buildings, shops, and hotel/conference center.
"If there had been no litigation, which took years to work its way through [the court system], then a substantial portion of this project would be constructed by now," said John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp. "But we are victims of the economic cycle, and there is nothing we can do about that."
Kelo, whom the state paid $442,000 for her old property, now lives in Groton, in a two-bedroom 1950s bungalow. Her beloved pink house was sold for a dollar and was moved less than two miles away, where a local preservationist has refurbished it.
Kelo can see her old neighborhood from her new home, but she finds the view too painful to bear.