Updated, 12:42 p.m.: Minor edit.
Firetree, Ltd., a non-profit based in Williamsport, PA, would like to operate a Federal Bureau of Prisons Residential Reentry Center at 17 Quintard Ave., former location of Pivot House. Firetree was denied a tenant fit-up, a kind of occupancy permit, a few months ago by Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort. The folks who run this dubious do-gooder enterprise have since filed two motions with the ZBA: a motion for appeal of Ms. Rochefort’s decision, and failing that, a motion for a Special Exception. The ZBA should reject both.
Firetree and their legal counsel have generated enough paper to fuel a bonfire, presumably to keep the folks at P&Z busy and to confound and intimidate the ZBA. With a trail of quasi-evidence dating back to 2014, you might even think Firetree was gearing up for a fight before the City of Norwalk even knew who they were. And you’d be right. Around the time the Federal Bureau of Prisons put this contract out to bid, in 2014, attorney Liz Suchy inquired at P&Z on behalf of an unnamed client who, she said, intended the same use for 17 Quintard that Pivot House had. Suchy didn’t name the client in 2014. And she certainly didn’t mention the client’s history of winning taxpayer funded contracts and opening multi-bed facilities for Federal inmates in places they weren’t wanted. Firetree, Ltd. has already been awarded a $5.6 million Justice Department contract to house Federal inmates at 17 Quintard. But you’d never know this was their plan if you looked at the first two years of correspondence with P&Z. Suchy’s letters asked, assuming same use, can my client get a permit?
Firetree president William Brown, in his July 2016 letter to P&Z Director Mike Wrinn, also avoided the issue of the intended use. No mention of prisons or prisoners, nor of the $5.6 million Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to provide beds for 19 – possibly more if the need arises – Federal inmates. Brown did boast about how Firetree planned to continue the work of Pivot House. But he forgot to mention that Pivot House was a faith-based sober living house for men, not an RRC under contract to the BOP, the federal version of the state Department of Corrections. He made lots of dubious claims that Firetree had no plans to do anything different at 17 Quintard than what Pivot Ministries had been doing for decades. Minus Jesus. The emphasis at Pivot Ministries is “Accepting Christ, Learning Discipleship, Building Communities and Serving Others”. Aside from William Brown and Firetree trying to serving up a load of crap about their work, there is no overlap at all in their use.
Firetree’s new attorney, Tom Cody, wants us to talk about the use and not the user. Fair enough. The use isn’t the same. And we all know it. But what about the user? This user has been clogging up P&Z for going on three years. P&Z staff are here to help the citizens who live here. And they’re paid through our tax dollars. So if you’re not worried about your Federal tax dollars going to Firetree, you should be worried about local tax dollars spent to pay Norwalk employees to deal with Firetree’s hay bale of redundant, misleading, erroneous, and intimidating papers. They put everything in that file at least twice. Except for the parts that the people cared about and the part that the P&Z needed to know. By the way, Firetree, what do you plan to do at 17 Quintard?
In 2015, Pivot Ministries applied for and received a permit for brick and mortar upgrades to 17 Quintard. Firetree’s name is on the application in the fine print. But nowhere does it say who they are or what they do. I guess the folks at Pivot House would call this a sin of omission. So for three years, Firetree has been planning to move Federal prisoners into our neighborhoods, threatening our families, putting our children at risk, and jeopardizing our property values. But they didn’t want the P&Z to know this. And they didn’t seem to want the Quintard neighbors to know it either, in spite of Mr. Brown’s assertions that Firetree’s operation at 17 Quintard will “remain an operation that serves only to benefit Norwalk and its residents.” By what strangled calculus does the placement of 19 or more Federal prisoners into a residential neighborhood constitute a benefit to Norwalk and its residents?
But wait! There’s more! Firetree doesn’t just plan to darken our landscape with a modified prison dressed up with fresh plantings. Firetree’s history of deception, litigation and greed clouds nearly every enterprise they’ve undertaken. Turn over a rock in any town in Pennsylvania, and you’ll find a story about how Firetree tried to sneak their way in, bullying local zoning boards, and litigating with a tirelessness usually reserved for spawning salmon and bad rashes. If you believe in Vampires, you know that they have to be invited in. And once invited, they are impossible to get rid of. Well, this applicant is Norwalk’s vampire. Say no to Firetree at the door. Because once we invite them in, no one will sleep easy at night.