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Norwalk ZBA hearing on Firetree lingering into late July

The Norwalk Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday discusses an application from Firetree LTD for a special exception to allow it to open a federal prisoner halfway house on Quintard Avenue.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Firetree battle is going on just a bit longer, with the continuing back and forth hinging on the definition of “structural improvements.”

Most Zoning Board of Appeals members on Thursday expressed skepticism about Firetree’s claim to have spent only $19,000 on structural improvements on the former Pivot House, and ZBA Chairman Andy Conroy opted to continue the public hearing so that staff could delve into what was done on the property.

Firetree’s attorney, Thomas Cody, called the requests “blatantly unfair” because they came at the end of the hearing, although ZBA member Lee Levey had said he’d requested further documentation from Cody but hadn’t gotten it.

Firetree says it spent $600,000 on renovations for the former Pivot House after buying it for $470,000. The dollar figure is important because Firetree is asking for a special exception to allow it to open its federal prisoner halfway house; one of the criteria for a special exception is that the percentage spent on structural improvements cannot be more than 25 percent of the assessed value of the building.

The three-hour hearing began with South Norwalk residents continuing their arguments against Firetree’s special exception, focusing on the other criteria involved, as well as attacking the Pennsylvania nonprofit’s legal argument that Norwalk is discriminating against the disabled by refusing to allow the halfway house to open.

“Halfway house has no legal definition,” Dr. Jeffrey Dietz said. “If we are trying to assert this is a halfway house, I urge you to consider common sense, which is ‘halfway’ means ‘in the middle.’ In the middle of what? These people that would be coming into our neighborhood are not in the middle, they are still in prison. They are not in the middle of anything.”

Bernie Madoff is in prison and if he says he is depressed then that diagnosis would justify calling him disabled, Dietz said.

“Remember correlation is not the same as causation,” Dietz said. “…People go to prison not because they are mentally ill or because of substance abuse. They go to prison because they break the law.”

Others went after the assertion that the former Pivot House had as many as 20 people in it, which Firetree is attempting to use as justification for its 17 beds.

“I’ve been there for almost six years,” said Maria Salkie, who lives next door to the former Pivot House. “I only saw seven or eight people at a time.”

“Pivot Ministries was like a small group…. It’s completely different. It’s going to be a big impact,” she said, addressing the special exception criteria that says, “The proposed use will have the same impact or a lesser impact upon the surrounding area than the existing nonconforming use.”

“Lack of parking has always been an issue,” Salkie said. “…I feel like there’s many things that are going to cause an impact.”

Scott Kuhner said he’d heard that a neighbor has an offer on his house, contingent on ZBA turning Firetree down.

“You can see the impact it will have,” he said.

Steve Balazs said he never saw more than five or six Pivot House residents in a van heading for the YMCA, and attacked the idea that Firetree had permission to build a halfway house because it was issued building permits.

There was a building 20 years ago in New York City that had permits for a building that was 10 stories higher than allowed by Zoning, and the city made them take down those stories, he said.

Urban Mulvehill, former ZBA member, referred to the lawsuit Firetree has filed, appealing the ZBA’s refusal to overturn Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort denial of a certificate of occupancy for the halfway house.

“I want to urge you not to be cowed by what was once a threat and now a reality, that the city of Norwalk is going to be sued for discrimination … I am confident the legal department will present arguments and will defeat that,” Mulvehill said.

Cody began his rebuttal by saying that assertions that the Fair Housing Act do not apply are “patently wrong.” Firetree is asking for 17 beds but has testified that on average there will be no more than 15 residents, he said.

Nearly half an hour later, Levey said he’d gone to the Building Department to look at documents and could not correlate the construction documents to what had been supplied by Cody, on his request.

Cody said affidavits supplied by Firetree’s architect and builder claiming that Firetree had spent no more than $19,000 on structural improvements are what’s “most relevant.”

The testy exchange escalated into an argumentative tone briefly, and Conroy asked them to “bring it down a little.”

The assessed value of 17 Quintard Ave., the former Pivot House, is $391,590, meaning that the maximum that could be spent on structural improvements would be $95,000, Cody said.

“I need to see a lot more detail,” Conroy said, explaining that he’s applied for building permits and new windows, doors and stairwells can be considered structural.

“The word structure can be taken two different ways,” said Levey, an architect. “One is the bare bone structure of rafters, joists, beams… the more you delve into the meaning, the semantics of structure, it refers also to the actual physical being of the building….  I think you are taking a very narrow view of the word structure.’”

“I need staff, the building staff and our attorney, to take an in-depth look at permits and the valuation process and be consistent with all the valuation judgments made to date… and therefore applying that to the permits and documents that have been submitted,” Conroy said.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann said Rochefort had already done that.

“I disagree with the $19,000,” Rochefort said. She offered no details, until asked, estimating, “Very roughly,” $80,000 for structural improvements.

“I think we need the complete final breakdown from the contractor and I am sure Firetree has it because they paid the bill,” Levey said. “…It can’t be done for ($19,000). I will swear to it as an architect.

McCann volunteered that the budget could be deceiving, as $400,000 work was estimated, and $90,000 of it was for a sprinkler system.

“I am not having confidence in the numbers,” Conroy said. “…I think the only way to resolve that is to take a good look at this.”

“This is coming at us so late in the process as to be blatantly unfair,” Cody said. “No one has ever raised this to us from the city staff.”

Touching on other issues, Conroy later commented that he saw the halfway house as inappropriate to the zone.

“I still see it as being significantly different for a residential zone,” Conroy said.

ZBA member Greg Brasher asked Cody if prisoners have to be disabled to get in.

“It’s not a requirement but it is one of the qualifications to go there,” Firetree Vice President Amy Ertel said.

“What?” someone in the audience said.

Brasher summed it up, “It’s not necessary, but to be sentenced or incarcerated is.”

“You mentioned no impact,” ZBA member Taylor Strubinger said. “It seems to me that there’s a substantial revenue loss for the city of Norwalk for the loss of personal property taxes.”

“I would agree,” Conroy said, asserting that Firetree will apply for tax exempt status and not pay property taxes on the halfway house.

“I am looking at the impact on the complete neighborhood,” Strubinger said. “I have heard they have lost 75 percent of the value of their property.”

Comments about property values are “all speculation,” Cody said.

“There is a broader impact,” Conroy said, going after Firetree’s assertion that its residents don’t generate a great amount of crime.

“It is not a matter of 10 doing it it’s a matter of one,” Conroy said. “…That affects changes the nature and complexion of the neighborhood.”

Again, “complete speculation,” Conroy said. “Firetree has not had that experience happen so you are speculating and generalizing and stereotyping.”

Conroy then expressed dissatisfaction with McCann, asking if McCann had gotten the information he had been asked to get from the Bureau of Prisons.

“I took assignment seriously,” McCann said, explaining that he’d left several voicemails trying to find out whether disabilities are considered when BoP recommends that prisoners be released to a reentry facility, such as Firetree’s halfway house.

He had done research on the topic and suggested to Cody that it would be in his interest to present evidence on how disability plays into the selection process, he said.

“The U.S. Attorney was unable or unwilling to answer,” McCann said.

As the hearing drew to a close, Conroy drew commentary from ZBA member Joe Beggan, who had been silent.

Beggan was the only vote in favor of overturning Rochefort’s decision, in the previous application made by Firetree.

“I think the impact on the community is a little bit different. That’s for sure, but I don’t think it’s shockingly different, as portrayed by the neighbors,” Beggan said.

Conroy drew out more from Beggan, saying that McCann needs “all the comments.”

“I have done building renovations my whole life,” Beggan said. “To me, ‘structural improvements’ mean major beams and the actual definition is a major change in the actual building itself. This building’s footprint is still the same.”

Began said he blames Mayor Harry Rilling, Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik and then-Council President Doug Hempstead for not responding to a letter Firetree sent in 2014 announcing that it was going to open a federal prisoner halfway house.

Common Council members Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) and Faye Bowman (D-District B) talked to Firetree, he said.

He addressed the audience.

“These people are the ones that you elect to represent you and they didn’t represent you, from the mayor all the way down,” Beggan said, although Melendez does not represent the SoNo residents. “These people came in and applied for permits like any other case does over the five years that I have been here. It’s as simple as that.”

Conroy said he was continuing the hearing, as permits need to be researched, but emphasized that he wants it done as quickly as possible, preferably within the next two weeks.

19 comments

Donna July 14, 2017 at 9:10 am

Nancy, thank you for covering another long, mostly boring and repetitive, ZBA hearing on the Firetree application.

With regard to Maria Salkie’s comments on parking, she relayed some critically important detail that I hope the ZBA considers seriously in their deliberations. The existing driveway at 17 Quintard encroaches onto her property at 19 Quintard. I’ve been to the property and seen the property line marker. Mrs. Salkie submitted photographs–both aerial and street view–which are already in the record, and which show a car parked at the street end of the driveway.

Firetree has committed to putting up a 6′ fence. Fences must be within the border of one’s own property. They cannot be on the property line itself. Once such a fence is erected, NO CAR will be able to access the 10 spaces Mr. Cody claims Firetree will supply. That’s ZERO CARS, and not TEN CARS. There is no parking in front of the property as that is the location of a hydrant.

Mrs. Salkie also raised a question about security. 17 persons can easily overpower 2 persons. Mr. Cody’s suggestion that safety concerns are merely speculative is, to use a favorite phrase of his, patently false.

I hope the ZBA will refer to Bannum House in Saginaw, MI, where this past January, armed gunmen stormed the house, held the residents and staff hostage, and executed an inmate. The dangers are not limited to inmates escaping and committing crimes. Crimes happen within the RRCs. Most are drug related, but there have been numerous reports of sexual assaults and sexual harassment of prisoners by staff.

To Mr. Cody’s point that it is “patently unfair” for the ZBA to request documentation of monies spent on structural improvements, the applicant has made claims regarding the cost of improvements to 17 Quintard. These claims began during the first hearing. The amount Mr. Cody claimed had been spent on improvements was in excess of $600,000. Firetree previously stated the amount was $500,000. Their builder estimated $350,000 and $390,000. The ZBA is merely seeking to clarify Firetree’s own statements. The field card I have seen for the property BEFORE the improvements puts a value of $282,000 on the structure. The budget for improvements would then be $70,500. The fireecapes alone are more than the $19,000 Firetree claims to have spent on structural improvements. As far as the affidavits submitted by the Cebulski Construction and Mark Demmerle, the board should require those persons to flesh out their claims with actual information.

Joe Beggan’s comments were out of line, and he should recuse himself. He has made statements throughout these hearings, both last night and on June 7, that reflect his open contempt for members of the public impacted by this application. Beggan’s allegations that the people we elected let us down is nothing more than political finger pointing. Mr. Beggan volunteered to serve on this board. If he cannot do his job and stick to the relevant section of code under consideration, he needs to step aside, and perhaps consider stepping down from the ZBA entirely.

Most of the changes that took place at 17 Quintard fall into the “structural” category. And structural improvements include electrical wiring upgrades, as Mr. Beggan should know. The fire escapes are structural. The new roof is structural. The ZBA should not stop at simply checking the math. They should make a site visit.

Steve Balazs July 14, 2017 at 10:18 am

Wow, am I impressed; the meeting lasted until 11:00am and NancyonNorwalk posted at 4:30AM!

I had a chance to speak yesterday but made my points less artfully than I would have liked . Whether, the City initially erred in granting certain approvals or not is irrelevant. Whether Firetree detrimentally relied on the passivity of the Building Department is likewise irrelevant. The purpose of zoning laws are to protect the character of a community. It’s not payback for what some may feel are neglectful administrators and politicians.

In a well-known case (http://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/23/nyregion/developer-agrees-to-plan-to-cut-12-floors-from-a-too-tall-tower.html) in the early 1990s a NYC developer had to remove 12 stories from a building, at a cost of millions of dollars and five years after it was built simply because it violated zoning. This was despite the fact the city, architect and developer had made an honest mistake when they initially gave the permit. While lambasting our Mayor and other political leaders for failing to take action earlier in reference to Firetree’s application may make some people feel good, it doesn’t change the critical issue that the permit should never have been given for more than 12 beds (the max allowed by code, as opposed to an “average” of what’s allowed) and the code is designed to be implemented for the benefit of the community.

Moreover, the sole board member who made clear his intent to vote in favor of Firetree, made the point for the community when he said that an average of 15 beds (and up to 17) is greater than 12 but that he didn’t think that was a substantial impact. One might very easily argue that a 42% increase in occupancy is a substantial impact, but regardless, the guiding language from the code is whether the impact on the community is equal to or less than the pre-existing use, it is not a substantial impact test. Likewise, whether Pivot violated their permit by having more than 12 residents is regardless since violating the law doesn’t change the permit (is it really possible that a drug rehab clinic doesn’t maintain records of the number of residents at the facility? This would seem impossible if they were getting reimbursement from any 3rd parties such as health insurance of the State). If this wasn’t the case, every residence in Norwalk that has been in violation of a zoning ordinance could simply legalize it by allowing enough time to lapse. In law they call the principle of time lapse, laches, but it doesn’t apply here. Unquestionably up to 22 people regularly using 17 Quintard (17 residents plus 5 staff members) will significantly impact traffic and congestion in the area. As for the value of housing, there is already evidence that Firetree’s building is impacting the community.

As Attorney Cody iterated over and over yesterday evening, the standard to apply in this case is whether the new use has an equal or less impact on the community than the pre-existing one. Special exceptions are intended to be rarely given out and should have to meet the clear letter of the law. By excluding prisoner half-way houses from inclusion, the City spelled out quite clearly that they saw halfway houses with inmates as having by its very nature a significant impact. In fact one so severe that they shouldn’t be allowed, at all! Attorney Cody did as best a job as possible trying to thread the needle by using anecdotal evidence by one self-serving employee of Firetree who apparently said Federal prisoners are easier to handle than State, but it would make no logical sense to allow Federal prisoners who may have no contacts with the community but not allow State prisoners who may.

Without a question a 17 prison inmate residence with 5 employee halfway house would have a greater impact on the community than a volunteer drug rehab facility which by code was permitted to have 12 beds. We don’t need to get into how substantially more the impact would be since the code doesn’t require that; just simply if it would create a greater impact. I respectfully maintain that the Board should put this to bed and vote it down.

Donna July 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm

The article below documents a recent murder at an RRC in Michigan. Lax security was partly to blame. Cody’s claims that neighborhood fears of escalating crime rates are based on stereotyping and are merely speculative are baseless and factually false. Patently false in fact. The gunmen in Saginaw were drawn to the RRC because of the specific criminal living there.

https://www.google.com/amp/pix11.com/2017/01/24/man-pardoned-by-obama-shot-and-killed-by-masked-men-at-halfway-house/amp/

Bob July 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm

@Steve, you eloquently laid out an excellent legal basis on which the Special Exception should be denied.

@Donna, your last comment by itself, backed up with actual facts and not the paid opinions that Firetree keeps producing from its own employees and contractors, is reason and impact enough for a denial of the Special Exception, as a house filled with all felons would clearly be of greater risk to the community than one that had a mix of convicted criminals and non-criminals.

The resident who noted that 3 offers on his house had already been withdrawn simply because of the possibility of Firetree opening a prison re-entry facility on the street demonstrated a major new impact on the community. This is already spreading to housing valuations and will lead to smaller city tax revenues. Now imagine how much greater the impact will be if the facility actually ever opens.

Donna July 14, 2017 at 2:33 pm

@Steve, great analysis of impact and the purpose of zoning–to preserve neighborhoods. Apparently, Joe Beggan either doesn’t understand the purpose of zoning or doesn’t care about our neighborhoods. Also Beggan’s comment that “these people came in and applied like any other case does,” reflects a very poor understanding of the history of the matter and the facts in the file. Perhaps he should bone up on this before he votes. Or recuse himself, which is my suggestion.

Donna July 14, 2017 at 2:47 pm

@Bob, you’re correct. The economic impact is already being felt as a result of this application. And most assuredly 17 felons, some disabled, has a greater potential impact than 12 addicts, all referred by local churches (according to Pivot Ministries tax returns and web site).

The existence of security requirements by its very nature is an expression of assumed risk. That’s not speculative.

Donna July 14, 2017 at 9:07 pm

If the changes made to 17 Quintard weren’t structural, they wouldn’t have needed permits. Structural Improvements are any improvements made to a property that are not decorative. Painting is not structural. Moving walls, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, moving walls, replacing windows are all structural by most definitions. Only the most constipated definition of “structural improvements” stops at headers, floor joists, and LVL beams.

Debora Goldstein July 15, 2017 at 9:43 am

Atty Cody for Firetree frequently cites affidavits as evidence in his presentations. But affadavits are just sworn testimony.

In a courtroom testimony is weighed by jury for truthfulness and evidentiary value. He acts as if the fact that swearing to a statement makes it uncontovertibly true.

OTOH, his suggestion that testimony by the public in a public hearing is not evidence for the ZBA board is a little bizarre.

This is not a courtroom, and the purpose of a public hearing is to allow the public to advise their elected (in this case, appointed) officials. The ZBA members can weigh all “testimony” for truthfulness and evidentiary value.

Fortunately, both the public and the ZBA have zeroed in on the fact that some of the affadavits are not supported by actual records–records that should be easy to obtain and provide.

Donna July 15, 2017 at 11:35 am

@Debora, Attorney Cody appears to share your skepticism of affidavits consisting of sworn opinions without documentation. He certainly objected to the “speculative” assertions of neighbors. And his demeanor during rebuttal and ZBA questions was that of a broken man, particularly in response to Lee Levey’s zinger–if construction costs were over $600,000, does Firetree owe the City additional building fees?

If Joe Beggan supports this application, I hope he’s prepared to back up his vote with more substance than “15 people doesn’t seem like that much more impact than 12 people” or “I think the impact on the community is a little bit different. That’s for sure, but I don’t think it’s shockingly different, as portrayed by the neighbors.” Who better than the neighbors, Mr. Beggan, to portray the degree to which a proposed change in use will have a more intense and decidedly more negative impact on the neighborhood? Every member of the ZBA should hear the input of neighbors during public comment with an open mind. This input should not be dismissed as reactive or speculative. What is the purpose of zoning if not to protect neighborhoods?

Debora Goldstein July 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

I don’t believe it’s fair to personally attack members of the ZBA for opinions come by honestly (if rather unbelievably) so long as they are grounded in the evidence presented.

I’d like to see a homeowner try that argument with respect to a regular permit. “We’ll have an average number of unrelated individuals living here equal to the maximum” or “a three story structure doesn’t seem like its much more of an impact than the two zoning says i can have. >t’s only going to restrict the view, air flow of a few neighbors…”

anna russo July 15, 2017 at 3:17 pm

@ Debora,
I don’t see Donna’s statement as a “personal” attack. It’s response to his statement as a member of the ZBA that will weigh significantly with the public and the opposition as someone who will determine if this gets approved or not. And from what he states, it seems like he doesn’t “get it”, understand or may even think the public are hyper critical of their neighborhood and is dismissing their concerns.

Frankly, if this is what he said, I’m appalled.

Donna July 15, 2017 at 6:13 pm

Mr. Beggan’s opinions do not seem to reflect familiarity with the history of this application. He believes Firetree approached the zoning department in a straightforward manner. Yet it is clear from the file that they did not. More important, both the content of his opinion and the manner in which it was expressed on Thursday and previously on June 7 suggest not only displeasure with some elected officials but also contempt for the neighbors. He may be a volunteer. But he is also a public servant. Blaming the neighbors for electing the wrong people is not a helpful approach to reviewing this application. Nor is it in his purview as a ZBA member to point fingers at elected officials. The voters will take care of these people come November. For now the section of code at issue, the particulars of the application and the impact on the neighborhood should be his primary concern. With regard to impact, what the neighbors say should have value and should not be dismissed out of hand.

Debora Goldstein July 16, 2017 at 12:12 pm

I know it is frustrating when someone looks at the same facts add you and comes to a different conclusion, but it goes to my point about weighing evidence. Mr. Beggan had clearly decided to give much more weight to the letters to the Mayor et al and the approval stamps on the building dept plans and almost nothing else.

Whereas I believe Mr Kinneary’s testimony about the numbers of individuals staying at Pivot should be accorded very little weight, because it contradicts the preponderance of the eyewitness testimony; it is unsupported by records that Mr. Kinneary was best positioned to supply; and because Pivot’s motivation to facilitate Firetree’s transaction against the intetests of a neighborhood where it will no longer operate are compromised by its complicity in the early stages of the application (pre-sale).

I also believe that more weight should be given to the fact that the very nature of the changes made so far (altering the accessory structure, additional parking, etc) are indicators that the greater impact is anticipated. The fact that Firetree offers to voluntarily meet certain conditions is additional evidence that there are impacts that exceed those of Pivot. Whether those conditions and alterations will, in fact, mitigate the additional impacts that Firetree implicitly admits to, is, as Mr. Cody likes to say, “purely speculative.

Lastly, he ignores the neighborhood perception issue. When weighed against the largely irrelevant affidavits provided about other Firetree facilities (again, unsupported by actual records that they were in the best position to supply and in contradiction with data supplied about RRCs in actual studies and audits, and in which their business/employment prospects go to motivation), there is a very real impact on property values from perception that a neighborhood is unsafe. The whole business of home appraisal is grounded in valuing homes using these intangibles.

The idea that the values of the neighboring real estate will go down is no more speculative than Mr. Cody’s unstated proposition that none of them will be affected by a single dollar of value difference that if Pivot remained. Even one dollar loss of value is a greater impact than what went before. And zoning should know full well that perception of a neighborhood has a direct causal relationship on property values.

Dawn July 17, 2017 at 8:02 am

While the fact that our elected and appointed officials dropped the ball is hard to stomach it is a fact. This points out the need for professionals to be in place. We need urban planners who know what they are doing. While I respect the volunteer service of those in our government, some just don’t know what they are doing. The city suffers when mistakes like this are made.

Wineshine July 17, 2017 at 8:24 am

Dawn is absolutely correct. While it’s admirable that some local residents are graciously donating their time and efforts for the good of the community, winning an election, or accepting an appointment does not automatically bestow on that person the knowledge to successfully perform duties that others are academically trained for. It’s not just Norwalk. This applies to every municipality. The one thing that these individuals can be successful at is to listen, and react to the sentiment of the taxpayers. Unfortunately, egos get in the way, and the aforementioned elected tend to say, “I know what’s best” and the taxpayers desires are secondary. This seems to be the case, front and center, with Firetree. That the mayor chose to ignore the warning signs here is irrelevant. The time to put this to rest once and for all is now.

Donna July 17, 2017 at 9:18 am

There is a way to hold elected officials accountable. Elections. We do have a city planner now. This is a great time for neighborhood leaders and others to weigh in on what they want Norwalk to look like in 10 years. Hopefully, the plan of development will be a guide star for both elected officials and those appointed to serve on the regulatory boards. However, the last Plan of Conservation and Development seemed to be treated like a suggestion.

Last year, there was a failed attempt at Charter Revision. This attempt did not include a change in the way regulatory boards, like the Zoning Commission and the ZBA, are populated. Having been a volunteer for many years, I reject the notion that our expectations of volunteers should be lower because they’re not getting paid. Or worse, that it is inappropriate to criticize these individuals because they are volunteers. It is completely appropriate to question their decisions. What has been denied the citizens is the ability to impose consequences on those who make decisions we consider poor ones for the City.

Significantly, no one likely to vote on the Firetree application lives anywhere near Quintard Avenue. The person most likely to vote YES lives north of the Merritt. I don’t think where these people live should matter, until commissioners start dismissing the concerns of those who DO live near proposed unwanted uses.

South Norwalk already has more than its share of LULUs. And the reasons for denying Firetree a Special Exception are crystal clear and have been well articulated at recent hearings and on these boards for months. Some of the best documentation regarding the inappropriateness of this application has come from the public. A direct abutter pointed out that the Firetree driveway encroaches on her property and the driveway will be impassable once a fence is put up, which the applicant has committed to do. The ZBA gave this information zero attention in their question and answer session with Attorney Cody. Nor did Cody attempt to rebut the claim. I hope the driveway and the parking issue will be raised on July 27 when the ZBA votes.

Klaus Schmitt July 18, 2017 at 9:07 am

It Is clear by now that the impact and cost of Firetree’s efforts are well beyond any justification for them to exist at 17 Quintard. Mr. Cody, Firetree’s attorney, stated that all sign offs ere completed and the building is ready for a Certificate of Occupancy. It is important to remember that, even though critical, the sign of by Zoning is only one of several sign offs required for a final Certificate of Occupancy. The Health Department, the local utility and even the DOT have still to sign off. A final C.of O. is issued by the Building Department……not Zoning.

Donna July 18, 2017 at 5:08 pm

@Klaus, while it is true that the Building Department signs off on the C.O., the zoning inspector must certify in writing that the use complies with the zoning regulations for the City. This is according to Connecticut General Statutes on Zoning 214, section 8-3 (f). In spite of Cody’s frequent protests regarding the requirement of a tenant fit-up permit application, this was the mechanism Aline Rochefort employed to satisfy the need of the Zoning Department to make certain this use was legally non-conforming. The application revealed that it was not, and the first remedy, appeal, has been denied. But before the building department will issue a CO, the Zoning Department must approve the use.

The Health Department, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. I’m not sure what bearing their decisions have on zoning. One could conceivably have a legally nonconforming use that violated Norwalk health codes. Given the nature of substance addictions in 2017, the health department may have something to say about an operation that claims most of its 17 occupants will have disabilities, and that the vast majority of those will be disabling addictions. Putting addicts in proximity to illegal drugs, some of them relatively new, does create a public health risk for the area. Carfentanil is already in Norwalk. The first carfentanil fatality in the state happened in Norwalk earlier this year. Other fatalities linked to heroin/fentanyl have occurred this year in Norwalk. Bringing new addicts into the area can only add to the crisis, especially since they will be residing at a facility that admits to offering NO drug treatment services.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.