NORWALK, Conn. – You can’t drive down Isaac Street and exit through the former Leonard Street municipal parking lot anymore. Jason Milligan has blocked entrance to the lot.
The flashing police lights at the end of Isaac Street on Tuesday represent the latest twist in the ongoing lawsuit filed against Milligan for buying the lot and other properties slated to become part of “POKO,” the stalled Wall Street Place development. Milligan states that before last week’s election, Mayor Harry Rilling and others placated him by making it seem they’d talk but kept things superficial and didn’t really engage. Now the City and Redevelopment Agency have become “very aggressive” with the lawsuit, he asserts. He’s therefore blocked the lot because, “I do not have a seat at the table.”
Isaac Street has been a one-way street for 4-plus years. The City on Tuesday moved to disallow parking along POKO’s eastern edge, to allow room for two-way travel.
“Several weeks ago, in anticipation of this possibility, the Norwalk Traffic Authority approved returning Isaac Street to a two way street,” Mayor Harry Rilling explained in an email. “Unfortunately, this results in the removal of valuable parking on the West side of Isaac Street. It seems Mr. Milligan has little concern for the businesses relying on those additional spaces. It however, surprises no one.”
That meeting was in June. On Tuesday, the City erected a “no outlet” sign at the intersection of Isaac and Wall Streets.
“Our legal department is reviewing land records as we believe the city has an easement across the property Mr. Milligan blocked,” Rilling wrote.
Milligan in May 2018 bought five properties that were slated for POKO II and III, through a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA), from Richard Olson of POKO Partners. Milligan at the time said he’d read the LDA and expected that the City and the Redevelopment Agency would negotiate with him, as spelled out by the LDA’s default remedies. Instead, they sued.
The plaintiffs sought a temporary injunction to prevent Milligan from selling, altering or renting the properties, and also to reverse the sale. A hearing on the temporary injunction began in December; on Oct. 12 an injunction was agreed to.
“It took a year” to get an injunction “that we could have agreed to that one week in,” Milligan said Tuesday.
City officials will not comment on ongoing litigation.
The injunction allows Milligan to lease out phase II properties for up to a year and phase III properties for up to five years.
“Phase III is never going to happen,” Milligan said.
The latest battle, aside from the injunction, concerns the plaintiffs’ request for information from Milligan. Judge Charles Lee in October ordered Milligan to turn over items such as the identity of his investment partner in Komi Ventures, their partnership agreement and communications with Olson.
The plaintiffs on Friday filed a motion for sanctions, accusing Milligan of defaulting on those orders. The partnership agreement was redacted, the text messages didn’t identify who said what and there was no certification under oath, they said.
Milligan on Tuesday called this “bull—-” and sanctions on “the most minor stuff.”
He had turned over un-redacted versions the day before the motion was filed and the certification for an oath is not something that you go straight to sanctions for, he said.
“They are playing games,” he said. “…Trust me, they came out guns blazing.”
Milligan had no problem identifying who said what when he submitted 68 pages of text messages between him and Chief of Staff Laoise King, the plaintiffs said in their motion for sanctions.
Milligan on Thursday filed an amended motion for summary judgment, a request for the judge to decide the case without a trial. The LDA was dependent on a Redevelopment Plan but the 2004 plan was allowed to expire, the motion argues, citing court testimony from an expert witness. The 2019 Wall Street West Avenue Neighborhood Plan does not reference Wall Street Place and was passed by the Common Council under representation by the Redevelopment Agency that no that there were no redevelopment projects anticipated in connection with the Plan, the motion argues. Not only that, but the remedies sought by the plaintiffs are in opposition to the LDA’s exclusive remedy provision, it states.
Plaintiffs have not yet filed a reply.
Legal fees paid in the lawsuit were $571,394.08 as of Oct. 25, according to documents obtained by NancyOnNorwalk.
A parking garage?
After apologizing to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, Council member John Kydes (D-District C) and Rilling in July, Milligan in August said he was in “pretty preliminary” talks with City officials to provide parking for the Wall Street area, a parking garage on the former Leonard Street lot.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) about this in October. Milligan had been talking about a garage, Livingston said. Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) indicated that he hadn’t heard about this proposal before NoN asked about it. Livingston declined further comment.
On Monday, Milligan sent an email to City and Redevelopment Agency officials, proposing that a new Conceptual Master Site Plan be created for the former Leonard Street lot, to include a four- to five-story parking garage, and cancelling the former plans for POKO phases II and III.
“Now, this potential CMSP would require plenty of heavy lifting,” he wrote. “There are at least 4 lawsuits that would have to be paused and eventually settled. Fortunately, I control the levers to at least 3 of the lawsuits. City leadership would have to admit failure up until this point, and they would have to give Jason Milligan A SEAT AT THE TABLE! That last one is perhaps the most difficult for the people with inflated egos to accept.”
Milligan said Tuesday that he’s been telling City officials that they should be asking for an Isaac Street exit through his lot. After the Traffic Authority meeting in June, the City worked to widen Isaac Street and put in parking.
“Would I have negotiated something else? not necessarily, but I’ve been bringing it up for months and months and months and months,” Milligan said, calling it a “shame” that they are “focusing on the wrong things.”
Back to the NDA
“You can’t blame it on me because they denied us a seat at the table and then they went underground with a nondisclosure agreement,” Milligan said Tuesday. “The exact opposite of what we were asking for. Their response was ‘nondisclosure agreement, we’re going to decide this behind closed doors.’”
The City in early 2018 signed a non-disclosure agreement with Citibank and its preferred redeveloper, JHM Group. This has prompted outrage in parts of the community.
Wall Street businessman Mike McGuire, as he was standing outside West Rocks Middle School on Election Day trying to get people to vote for Mayoral challenger Lisa Brinton, said that the NDA was the reason he wasn’t supporting Rilling. He has signed NDAs as part of his business and could have signed the Citibank NDA, and none of this would have happened, he said.
“In order for Mr. McGuire to be part of the NDA, he would have had to receive permission from Citibank, not us,” Rilling said in a Tuesday email. “Mr. Milligan continues to attempt to play this out publicly. I will not engage him on this issue that is currently pending before the court.”
King pointed out that the NDA was effective for three months “in the spring of 2018. There has been no NDA since.”
City officials resisted Citibank’s demand for an NDA, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request show. Coppola in a September 2017 email said the city had never executed an NDA for “a project like this.” It hadn’t been done with GGP in the months-long mall approval project, when the “stakes were higher.”
Citibank refused to turn over a proforma and a CMSP without an NDA, the emails show.
Milligan on Tuesday explained, “We wanted to help remake our future. We didn’t like the decisions they were making. If they had given us a seat at the table, we weren’t looking to assign blame, we were looking to solve problems. But when they treat us badly, then you start assigning blame because there is plenty of blame to go around.”
“Why wouldn’t they at least listen to our ideas about it and then they could bring it up to Citibank?” he asked, explaining that shortly after the City signed the NDA, “that’s when I decided to read all the documents and reread them, and read them and read them…. That’s why I understand what they’re hiding. There’s a lot to hide.”
Blocking the lot
Milligan said he emailed and texted Rilling on Monday, saying, “I hope you can find a minute to give me a call me to avoid a mess.” Rilling didn’t call.
In addition to his desire “for a seat at the table,” there’s a safety issue with the lot as “people are ripping through there at 60-70 miles an hour. Trucks, too. So why would I have people drive over my property for no reason?”
He had left the lot open as “an accommodation, as a neighbor, as a good friend” but “that’s not what they’re doing and they came on as aggressive as you can imagine,” he said.
That ordinary citizens will suffer pain “bothers me very much,” he said in a late-night email. “My goal is to improve the Wall Street area. I feel like some at the city are fiercely and actively working against my efforts. Sometimes there is short term pain for long term gain, and with all meaningful change there is some pain and discomfort.”