Updated, 2:05 p.m.: Possibility of eminent domain, Tuesday email to Council.
NORWALK, Conn. – The way is clear for construction to begin next to the Norwalk Public Library, developer Jason Milligan said Monday.
While Mayor Harry Rilling said discussions continue regarding the city’s effort to lock in an option to purchase the property, Milligan said he is “not overly optimistic.”
There have been repeated threats of eminent domain, Milligan said Tuesday, after appealing to the Common Council to give the issue more consideration.
Milligan, through 587 CT AVE LLC, owns 11 Belden Ave. and in April, 2016, won Zoning approval for a 69-unit apartment building over the objection of library fans, whose complaints included the need for parking in the area. The Norwalk Public Library Foundation, led by former Mayor Alex Knopp, appealed the Zoning Commission’s decision, and Knopp eventually negotiated a deal for the city to buy a six-year purchase option for the property at a cost of $460,000, locking in a $4.8 million price.
This was described as a win-win, but last week Milligan said he was dropping it.
The city had demanded too much, with too many lawyers involved in “changing” the deal through a 14-point addendum, he complained; the Common Council on Wednesday gave the addendum a bi-partisan blessing, unanimously voting to approve it with the caveat that one item be left open to allow Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola to negotiate terms regarding insurance on the property.
To which Milligan promptly replied, “no deal.”
On Friday, Rilling said, “We are hopeful we will be able to resurrect the deal through continued discussions.”
On Monday, Milligan said, “There has been very slight movement in a very typical fashion. I am not overly optimistic this minute. We have always kept our options open and we have recently begun looking at the apartment project with fresh eyes now that all appeals/lawsuits have been cleared. … the apartment project is ready to go.”
The Library Foundation appeal was withdrawn in May.
There was another appeal on the Zoning Commission’s approval of Milligan’s development, filed by S&E Properties, owner of 15 Belden. The state judicial website shows that S&E Properties requested that is appeal be withdrawn on Friday, and a “withdrawal of action” filed Monday.
There is, however, a separate action against Milligan, not the Zoning Commission, that is still open. The S&E Properties action is against Milligan’s 587 CT AVE LLC directly and concerns parking spaces; the trial date on that was moved recently from Sept. 9 to Nov. 28.
Rilling said the city is still trying to secure the property.
“Discussions with Mr. Milligan have taken place as recently as this afternoon,” Rilling said. “The city stands ready to sign an agreement that protects our interests as well as CT AVE, LLC. We will not discuss confidential negotiations in the media.”
“I think it has been lost on many of the countless attorneys that pushed too hard that we are no longer bound to work with the city,” Milligan said. “The agreement we had expired on 8/31. The last appeal to the apartment project was withdrawn September 7th.”
On Tuesday, Milligan said Coppola has repeatedly threatened eminent domain.
Milligan emailed the Council on Tuesday to offer a version of the addendum that he said they had never seen.
“It is very unfortunate that the council has been placed in the position that it is now in. The council unanimously approved a library option agreement for 11 Belden Ave, with the expectation that some additional protections for the city would be added to the agreement,” Milligan wrote. “Those ‘additional protections’ mushroomed into an entire rewrite of the option agreement. We tried to make it work given all of the new demands brought on by Marshall Goldberg and Mario Coppola.”
On Sept. 6, “Mario Coppola called my former attorney allegedly on another matter, but then used 10 minutes of the call to disparage me personally and told this former attorney that the deal sent that morning was the deal, and that I could take it or leave it,” Milligan wrote. “That sentiment was reiterated by the Mayor and (Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King). I told them that I reject the most recent changes, just as I had rejected Mario’s ‘FINAL’ version. I made it extremely clear that they should not present that version to the council. Mario decided to present the version that was acceptable to himself and himself alone to the council. You voted on that version of the agreement. Unfortunately, that was a complete waste of time.”
He continued, “Despite all of this mistreatment, I left the door open with Mayor Rilling last Friday the 8th. We could try to keep this together if the City would honor the version of the agreement that he, Laoise and myself had created on 9/1/17. A prerequisite to any further discussion would be that our version of the agreement would need to be presented to you tonight. I have been told you will not be presented with the 9/1/17 acceptable version tonight. Thank you for your efforts. It remains puzzling that you were put in the position that you were.”