Updated, 8:17 p.m.: Photo added.
NORWALK, Conn. – A real estate broker with a history of legal battles against the City says that a utility box on his property is there illegally. City officials disagree.
The latest legal contretemps between Jason Milligan and the City of Norwalk involves a signal box next to his building at 69 Wall St.
“Milligan has been on defense. Offense starts today,” Milligan wrote Tuesday to NancyOnNorwalk. He attached a letter from one of his lawyers to City officials demanding that the box be immediately removed on the grounds that the City “has no rights to the use of the property.”
The City does have the rights, Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan wrote to Milligan’s lawyer Candace Fay, in a sternly-worded reply warning Fay of her professional responsibility “to only assert good-faith claims.” Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan then released a statement which charges that Milligan is “working against the best interests of the neighborhood strictly to be a nuisance to the City” as he “wastes the city’s time and money with unsubstantiated allegations and complaints.”
Milligan ‘on offense’
“How sloppy & disorganized is the City of Norwalk?” Milligan’s Tuesday email asked.
He had written to Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert on March 11 to complain about the signal box at 69 Wall St., arguing that although there’s an easement on the land records, it allows pedestrian access, not a box. “I do not wish to have it remain there unless we can come up with fair / appropriate lease terms,” he wrote.
Hebert referred him to corporation counsel. Milligan, in the Monday phone call, objected to the involvement of Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, who he refers to as “Super Mario.”
Callahan in March requested that the matter go through Attorney David Rubin, who is representing Milligan in the POKO lawsuit, “to avoid any suggestion of impropriety.”
Fay’s Tuesday letter to Callahan and Hebert directs them to immediately cease and desist any and all use of Milligan’s land. “Should the City choose to continue to trespass on the Owner’s Property a legal action will commence immediately,” she wrote.
“Please be advised that the City has a perpetual easement and right of way for all lawful purposes in, under, over and through the area between 69 and 71 Wall Street. A simple title search should have alerted you to this fact. As such, your client’s claim of an unlawful encroachment is baseless. In the future, I trust you will undertake greater caution before sending similar demand letters as you have a professional responsibility to only assert good-faith claims after a reasonable investigation of the underlying facts.”
“Darren really should do better research and he should watch his tone,” Milligan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk. He added a vulgar personal insult directed at Callahan.
“Thank you for your letter of today’s date which illustrates exactly why the City of Norwalk is positioned so poorly,” Fay wrote back to Callahan. “Let me be clear, you are wrong. Your reading of the operative deed demonstrates a serious lack of very basic simple legal principles.”
Fay included a copy of the deed and offered her interpretation of the wording, claiming that it does not allow the box because it was not present on a map created when the easement was agreed.
“It would be reasonable to think that you, as Associate Corporation Counsel, would go to Town Clerk’s Office (located in the same building as you) and review the attached items before writing such an inappropriate letter to the undersigned, an attorney who did take the time to review these documents,” she wrote. “Instead, you have chosen not to do so, thereby inviting yet another litigation which could cost the taxpayers to spend even more money from their seemingly limitless pockets.”
Callahan replied to NancyOnNorwalk’s request for comment on Fay’s letter:
“It is not productive for me to respond to Attorney Fay’s most recent letter other than to say I am very comfortable with my position on this issue and prepared to address the matter in court if need be,” Callahan wrote.
“A title search and examination of the land records for 69 Wall Street shows a long-standing easement that grants the City right of way access for the traffic signal box. It is surprising that Mr. Milligan would not be aware of this easement on his property which has been in existence since 1956.
“What is not surprising, however, is that Mr. Milligan would try to disrupt and distract the law department. Mr. Milligan claims to be the target of frivolous lawsuits, yet, is the one who continually wastes the city’s time and money with unsubstantiated allegations and complaints. He is working against the best interests of the neighborhood strictly to be a nuisance to the City.”
A history of legal issues
Milligan’s legal battles with Norwalk began when the Norwalk Public Library Foundation in 2017 filed a lawsuit appealing his Zoning approval to build apartments on Belden Avenue, on a parcel next to the library. The foundation is a federally certified nonprofit organization, not a city agency, and Milligan called this a “sneaky” workaround because one city agency cannot sue another. The lawsuit was settled when the City paid Milligan $460,000 for a six-year option to buy his lot, which was seen as critical to solving a longtime parking shortage for the library.
Milligan says that experience inspired him to become an activist. In his telling, he swooped in and bought properties that were slated to be used as part of the stalled Wall Street Place development, often called “POKO,” because he thought that would give him a seat at the table for discussions about the area. He has claimed to NancyOnNorwalk on multiple occasions that his actions are driven strictly out of concern for the Wall Street neighborhood, rather than by financial gain. Prior to the purchase, he read the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the properties and interpreted the language to mean that once he bought the property City leaders would declare a default and negotiate with the parties involved, during the 30-day cure period that’s mentioned.
Instead, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the City declared a breach of contract, calling the default “incurable,” and sued Milligan and Richard Olson of POKO partners, alleging that their transaction violated the LDA. The plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction on Milligan has resulted in a lengthy hearing process.
Milligan said Monday he thinks the Redevelopment Agency’s legal bills in the matter have topped $500,000. Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan did not reply to a Monday email asking what the latest total is. In court last month, he said they were more than $200,000.
Stamford Superior Court Judge Charles Lee is expected on April 30 to hear evidence in Milligan’s attempt to have the case dismissed. Olson has also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs did not follow the default procedures outlined in the LDA. CCR Rivington, another defendant in the case, has filed a motion to strike the charges it faces.
The plaintiffs are “down a rabbit hole,” Milligan said in a Tuesday phone call to NancyOnNorwalk. “They are going to be at $1 million (in legal bills) and they still can’t get a preliminary injunction.”
Coppola in court last month was asked about his conversations with Milligan, before the lawsuit was filed.
“The basic sentiment was ‘it’ll be a war if you end up filing any litigation against me, I’ll embarrass city officials in the press and it will be an all-out war, there won’t be an opportunity to work with me once litigation is filed,’” Coppola said as part of that testimony. “I know he expressed that sentiment to me multiple times. After he closed on the property, prior to the lawsuit.”
NancyOnNorwalk asked Milligan if this is a stunt.
“The pattern here is routine city screw ups and me not backing down to the law department typical thuggery,” Milligan wrote late Monday. “Note that I wrote a nice email to Kathryn who I like and respect. One month later nothing.”
“A proper response a month ago would have been in order, and then this would probably not (have) gone to the press. There is a thing called personal responsibility that is sorely lacking at City Hall, which unfortunately starts at the top. The city is illegally using my property without my permission. Quite a stunt…did I install the traffic box or did I just point out their big mistake?”