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.”