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West Norwalk neighbors lose court battle over senior home

A screen capture from SunshineSeniorResidence.com.

NORWALK, Conn. –  A business that was denied permission to operate a senior living residence in West Norwalk has won its court appeal.

7 Forest Hill LLC, owner of the single-family residence 7 Forest Hill Road, applied for and was granted a Zoning permit early last year for five unrelated senior citizens to rent rooms in the home and receive help cooking and cleaning.  Neighbors appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which unanimously overturned the permit just over one year ago.

The Court on Tuesday ruled that ZBA acted illegally and in abuse of its discretion in deciding the proposed use is either a nursing home or boarding house. Judge A. William Mottolese found that the business is more closely aligned with a single-family use.

“They fought the good fight,” Alan McNichols wrote to NancyOnNorwalk. “Folks with deep pockets could continue the fight but generally, in my opinion, the public finds out too late that government at all levels fails to protect us. It is darn shame.”

City officials did not respond to a request for comment.

ZBA considered the case after Mark Lorusso, a direct neighbor, filed an appeal. Lorusso argued that the company was trying to open a commercial business in a Triple A residential neighborhood.

“(T)here is nothing to say in the law you can’t purchase a home… and rent it out,” Gary Ferone of Fairfield Family Care LLC said at the resultant ZBA hearing.  “This is not a commercial business that is being run. I don’t think the regulations prohibit commercial uses in residential zones… It doesn’t prohibit people from renting out their house.”

Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin cautioned the ZBA that, “I don’t think the regulations prohibit commercial uses in residential zones… It doesn’t prohibit people from renting out their house.”

“Unfortunately we have to abide by the wording in the regulations,” Kleppin told board members. “In this case, the definition of family to me trumps pretty much everything else that’s in the regulations, in terms of rooming house, boarding house, whatsoever.”

Then-ZBA Chairman Joe Beggan characterized the business as a nursing home, which is not allowed in the Triple A zone.

It’s not a nursing home because it’s not licensed, the Court ruled Tuesday.

The decision hinged on definitions of words, with the Court resorting to dictionaries for definitions of words like “boarders” and considered court decisions in other states.

Norwalk Zoning regulations do not allow boarding houses in Triple A zones.

A boarding house is a “quasi-public space” and accepts transient guests, the court noted. However, at 7 Forest Hill Road, the residents will:

  • Share status as elderly with common or at least similar needs and wants
  • Live in community, sharing meals and services
  • Make the facility their permanent home
  • Not have unlimited mobility to come and go at will

 

Although each will have his/her rental agreement, the terms are basically the same for everyone, the facility will not be quasi-public in the sense that it will not be open to all and none of the residents will be transient guests, the court said. They will not drive cars and you don’t usually find licensed caregivers to assist the handicapped with personal  hygiene, housekeeping  and daily interaction.

Group homes for the mentally impaired have been found to constitute single family dwellings and the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the profit nature alone would not change the single family character of the use, Mottolese said.

According to McNichols, this makes the score: “Ferone 4+, the public, ZERO.”

24 comments

Jerry July 25, 2019 at 7:34 am

Can you give me more information on this senior home? As you know if your a senior in Norwalk with a fixed income it’s very hard to keep a roof over your head because of the price gouging that’s going on

Al Bore July 25, 2019 at 8:33 am

Norwalks current zoning laws do not protect residential property’s or neighborhoods and need to be overhauled. Mr. Kleppin would this have been allowed in New Canaan? Overhaul the zoning laws to protect our neighborhoods. It sure sounds like it should not be allowed to happen in a AAA residential zone to me but this is Norwalk.

carol July 25, 2019 at 10:48 am

it is not a nursing home it is community living which is becoming popular across the u.s. it is for seniors who live together,share a common space and eating but each retains there own room. it has been wonderful for people with no families and that are not ready nor can afford a nursing home.

Patrick Cooper July 25, 2019 at 11:19 am

Perhaps it isn’t clear. This is a long known issue – decades – that simply won’t get addressed. The current mayor – Harry Rilling – served on the Norwalk Zoning Commission from 2012 until his election as Mayor in 2013. A signature promise from that campaign was – I’ll fix planning and zoning. It’s in the record.

Does this look fixed to you?

Another Opinion July 25, 2019 at 11:34 am

So renting out rooms at $4,000 – $5000 / month is not a commercial business? The judge got this wrong and hopefully the neighbors will appeal. I also wonder whether the city’s legal department recused themselves from defending the neighborhood given they had approved it in the first place. Not a good precedent to say the least – will the city appeal this?

Cecilia Andy July 25, 2019 at 11:44 am

This is a terrible precedent and residents must expect the city to appeal this on solid legal grounds.

Per Wikipedia, “A boarding house is a house (frequently a family home) in which lodgers rent one or more rooms for one or more nights, and sometimes for extended periods of weeks, months, and years. The common parts of the house are maintained, and some services, such as laundry and cleaning, may be supplied. They normally provide “room and board,” that is, at least some meals as well as accommodation. ”

Where are the mayoral candidates on this? What would Lisa do and how is the mayor responding to this. . . . we were all promised after the mosque debacle that zoning would be shored up to protect neighborhoods – another failure of this administration.

Bridget P July 25, 2019 at 12:25 pm

What an embarrassment for the city and its zoning regulations. This is Mosque version 2.0. Why would anyone purchase a residential home in Norwalk when your neighbor can run a business like this? Imagine the traffic and first responder firetrucks every-time 911 is dialed. I also learned the home is situated on septic and well without access to the public water system or sewer. Hard to believe city ordinances were weak enough for this to be overturned.

Bryan Meek July 25, 2019 at 12:31 pm

We have full time Air BnBs up in Cranbury now thanks to depressed real estate values.

Who even knows if this is legal, but at least seniors wouldn’t be coming and going out of this place like it’s a hotel.

It seems this administration isn’t going to stop until the entire city is a rental property.

Gypsy July 25, 2019 at 2:03 pm

All you NIMBYS need to wake up. This senior home is no more a “business” tthan is a group home for mentally handicapped adults. Would you deny a group home because you (wrongfully) believe rhat it’s s “business” also?
Obviously at least one commentor hasn’t even read the article, or they would know the seniors who will be living there are NOT “temporary” or “transient” either.
Frankly I find this NIMBY attitude disgusting.

Norwalk Lost July 25, 2019 at 3:22 pm

This is par for the course in Norwalk and a joke to say the least when a business with a checkered history ans operator can skirt the city’s weak zoning regulations and open this enterprise. Since when has renting a room for $5,000 a month (more than the rate for an average house) become an altruistic cause? Spare me the nonsensical rationale – terrible ruling!

John ONeill July 25, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Stamford has a bigger issue with this group. They have 5 or 6 houses in Stamford. Seems like a shady operation at a glance..

Jennifer Ressa July 25, 2019 at 10:40 pm

I have a family member at the residence in question. Our family cared for our now 98 year old relative in his and and then his sons home, until caring for him at home was no longer an option due to our own growing family. After almost a year of looking at traditional “facilities”, we chose for our loved one to move into the Norwalk home. The contract in question is for the care provided by professional caregivers through a licensed homecare agency. Just like we had for him before he made his move. He is THRIVING with the exceptional care provided, and we could not be happier with his decision to share a home with other seniors who are struggling with the same late life struggles he is. It’s apparent to me anyone having negative comments regarding this article have never actually considered the positive attributes to this new main stream way of senior living. I hope you all can have the same positive choices in your later lives. This is a dream come true for those who are able to benefit from such a great senior living option.

Mike Mushak July 25, 2019 at 11:43 pm

More than half the commenters on this article are anonymous, what a surprise. I wouldn’t want to identify myself either if I was against such a benign and helpful solution to help our struggling seniors.

Guess what folks, we’re all getting older and more fragile fast, and here’s a revelation:

Not all of us are wealthy enough for Waveny Care or all the other $500 a day care centers (average $15,000 a month) around town. These smaller facilities in residential homes are needed and essential to a caring society. Get a life and stop the embarrassing nimbyism.

I’m glad the court came out on the right side of humanity.

Lisa Brinton July 26, 2019 at 6:51 am

I’m sympathetic to Ms. Ressa’s situation, but why bother to have different neighborhood zoning designations, if there is always an exception?

Norwalk has acquired a reputation of ‘come and do whatever you please because our zoning regs are a mess and/or we just don’t care.’ Unless, you’re an existing homeowner trying to do a basic renovation and then we enforce the tiniest of minutia.

Having a facility like this in a AAA zone just devalued that neighborhood and whatever equity homeowners might have had in their properties. It’s interesting one doesn’t see these repeated zoning issues pop up in neighboring towns where ‘hate has no home.’

Norwalk has a long history of being a diverse, welcoming city. However, this administration has cast fear into every long standing homeowner – with an ‘anything goes’ attitude. Their single biggest fear is the city wiping out years of equity built up in their homes, due to planning and zoning and fiscal malfeasance, with Poko being the poster child. The economic backbone of Norwalk are homeowners and this administration scares the daylights out of them.

Demographic trends ARE changing, but we as a city are unprepared, having done NOTHING to update our regulations to protect our city’s greatest asset after the beach – our residential neighborhoods from various oversized or inappropriate use development – be it a place of worship, prison halfway house, or nursing home.

The most endangered group in this city is the homeowner.

Last night, I attended the East Norwalk TOD workshop. Redevelopment continues to push increased residential density in the East Avenue area – where they want to test the limits of traffic congestion, funneling as many commuters as possible under the train line. East Norwalk residents expressed concerns that they don’t want anymore residential. Will this administration listen – probably not.

Mike Mushak July 26, 2019 at 7:10 am

Lisa Brinton, for a mayoral candidate, you have a surprisingly limited grasp of land use policies, fair housing law, transit-oriented development, and the need for affordable options for folks who are not as fortunate as you.

No surprise coming from someone who lives in a million dollar house in Rowayton with a swimming pool. You can’t just be the mayor of affluent white people in a city as beautifully diverse as Norwalk, but that seems to be your goal here.

And please present evidence backing up your claim that a senior care center has negatively affected nearby residential property values. That argument has been used over and over in Norwalk by the usual crowd of ignorant NIMBIES so you should be able to find the evidence if it is true. I somehow think this is just another one of your outrageous and unsubstantiated claims, which you make in almost every comment.

Scott July 26, 2019 at 8:10 am

@Mike – I have mixed feelings about remaining anonymous while posting opinions. Many of us no longer have the luxury of free speech. Sure, you can say we have it, but there are repercussions if your speech or ideology is not aligned with your employer’s. Or if your small businessman, you could potentially lose customers. I see your posts on several sites and disagree with your politics, but have seen some of your landscaping work and it is beautiful. If I had a need to hire you, would I? I’m not sure based on some of the things you’ve posted. The same is true of others. They have families, bills, responsibilities and can’t take the risk of offending their employers, managers, or customers. I’m not saying it’s right, but just something to consider. However, I do take my hat off to you for speaking your mind, being passionate and taking that risk.

Foresthillappeal July 26, 2019 at 9:01 am

It’s congregate housing. That was the argument from the beginning. ZBA didn’t listen the court didn’t listen and Norwalk loses. The City law department can appeal this decision. If you agree that this is a violation of the current City of Norwalk zoning regulations you should email the Mayor and ask him to direct his law department to file an appeal to this decision. It’s time for the city to stand up and defend its zoning regulations and/or change them to come into the 21st-century.

Foresthillappeal July 26, 2019 at 9:17 am

Dear Ms. Ressa
I Couldn’t be more pleased that your family member is thriving. I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease in 2015 after a 12 year battle in which my father was her primary caregiver and died six months prior to her death. This would’ve been a welcome alternative to her last year of life that was spent at Brighton Gardens in Stamford.
This case was about – is it an allowed use under the current laws or not? The courts have or will decide and the city of Norwalk has already begun to make changes to the zoning regulations to make it more clear as to what is allowed and not allowed. I am happy to abide by any decisions that are made but certainly feel strongly that I have a right to question one I believe is an incorrect interpretation of the law. I doesn’t mean I don’t care or don’t consider the impact this has on the community.
My best wishes to you and your family member.

Cecilia Andy July 26, 2019 at 12:28 pm

I think Lisa’s comments are spot on and will support her for mayor. She is exactly what the city needs vs. the do nothing current administration who failed to deliver on promises to shore up land use after the Mosque situation and is transforming the city to a Bridgeport style hellscape with these monstrous apartment developments. This enterprise does not belong in an advertised AAA zone and will have lasting repercussions for the residential housing market. The “free wheeling – anything goes” zoning ordinances have long been a liability for the city and this administration has been feckless in implementing the needed change. I also find it quite bullying that commentators on this site are trying to stifle free speech on this blog by being critical to those who wish to remain anonymous when they disagree. Please grow up!

Milly July 28, 2019 at 6:43 am

Lisa Brinton – I agree with much of what you say, but then you give full support to Milligan who breaks all the rules.
Mr. Mushak it is easy to be in full support of a project when it is on someone else’s street. I remember in the past when you lost it over how recycling was being collected on your street- so everyone cares about where THEY live.

Lisa Brinton July 28, 2019 at 1:53 pm

Milly, I haven’t given full support to Milligan. I simply said he’s not the root cause of the failed Phase I portion of Poko. I stood outside the building two years ago and said we needed to go after Citibank. Milligan wasn’t even on the scene then. He’s a Johnny Come Lately, commercial real estate guy, who picked up the pieces of the undefined LDA Phases II and III.

This was an oversized, farcical, taxpayer funded fiasco from its inception, dating back over a decade and multiple mayoral administrations. Hindsight is 20/20 but many former council members have attested to this. However, city financed lawyers have billed hundred of thousands of dollars going after Milligan, trying to pin Phase 1 mistakes on him, while giving a pass to the real culprit, a bad loan by Citibank and poor oversight by the city. Both a Finance and Redevelopment Director have quit in the past six months. City Hall got in over its head. We may never get to the truth, but rather than admit mistakes, male egos have cost this city’s taxpayers dearly.

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