Updated, 6:28 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. — Developer Jason Milligan has again accused Norwalk of shenanigans. Milligan claimed Friday that the City’s top lawyer attempted to interfere with an approved demolition when he sought to void a valid demolition permit.
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola denied Milligan’s allegations. Milligan said he went ahead with the demolition of 21 Isaacs St. after a one-day delay.
Milligan said Friday that he had expected to renovate 21 Isaacs St. after purchasing it, but mold and buckled floors made demolition the best option. The property is part of a stalled public redevelopment project known as POKO. In June the City of Norwalk sued the property’s prior owners and an entity controlled by Milligan, claiming that the transfer of ownership between them took place without required approvals. The lawsuit is still pending.
Requirements for demolition were 90 percent met, with environmental testing needed, Milligan said. A tiny amount of asbestos was found.
Owners planning to act on a demolition permit are required to call the building department before starting. The department was notified Thursday of plans to begin, but “somebody tipped off Mario” and the City’s law department “scared” a building department employee, Milligan said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan spoke to Assistant Building Official Leo Guerrero at Coppola’s request, Milligan said.
Milligan alleged that Callahan told Guerrero to void the permit, and when Guerrero asked why, Callahan said it was complicated.
“Leo said, ‘I can’t do that, it’s a valid permit,’” Milligan said.
Demolition was cancelled, but, “I got it back going,” Milligan said. According to Milligan, the City would have needed a court order to stop demolition, and they didn’t obtain one.
Norwalk’s Chief Building Official Bill Ireland is on vacation. NancyOnNorwalk contacted Guerrero, who was hesitant to speak.
Guerrero initially said he hadn’t heard of NoN and wanted to speak face to face. This reporter offered to send a representative to speak in person. When Chapman Hyperlocal Media Board Chairman Bob Welsh arrived, Guerrero declined to answer questions, apart from saying that he didn’t understand the confusion, and the permit was never cancelled. Asked for more information, he said to return next week when Chief Building Inspector Bill Ireland was back in the office.
“Mario is out of control, he thinks he owns this city,” Milligan said, Friday afternoon. “…What they did is tortious interference. … How do they defend this egregious rogue behavior to go down and try to cancel a demolition permit?”
Callahan did not reply to an email from NancyOnNorwalk. Mayor Harry Rilling declined to comment.
“Jason over the last year or two has said many things about me that are completely untrue,” Coppola said. “I was away with my family on vacation this week. I didn’t talk to Attorney Callahan regarding this matter this week. I didn’t discuss anything with him… having said that, we are obviously in litigation with him and we have no further comment at this time regarding the issues that are in the process of being litigated.”
Milligan provided NancyOnNorwalk with a copy of the demolition permit, issued Aug. 9 to ILSR, the prior owner.
Milligan, under the entity Wall Street Opportunity Fund LLC, is being sued by Norwalk for buying 21, 23, and 31 Isaacs St. in May from ILSR Owners LLC, managed by Rich Olson of POKO Partners. ILSR, an entity created by POKO, is also being sued. Both Olson and Milligan are accused of violating the Land Disposition Agreement for the properties by transferring ownership without Norwalk Redevelopment Agency permission. Milligan has accused City officials of treating him differently than other developers, and in June he responded to the lawsuit’s filing with insults directed at Mayor Harry Rilling.
Milligan also said that when he went to contract on the Isaacs Street properties, Ireland issued a blight citation, and after the transaction closed and he owned the properties, he cleaned them up.
“It’s very, very coincidental that happens and I am convinced that Mario is behind it, Mario is the mayor,” Milligan said.
Ireland in June denied that a blight citation had been issued.
“The property was never Blighted. All POKO received was an alert letter to clean and maintain the vacant property. Since then, the lot has been cleaned and it was deemed not necessary to proceed with the Blight Warning and Citation,” Ireland said in an email.
He further clarified, “A warning letter was NOT issued. I was there in regard to the CITI bank building and saw the condition of the property. That is what generated the ALERT letter.”
Milligan said that his purchase of the 21 Isaacs street followed a period of neglect during which trees had grown up around it.
“The building is down, it was done properly,” Milligan said. “For how many years was it stalled, how long was it boarded up? … You couldn’t even see the building when I bought it, it was blighted.”
Video provided by Jason Milligan.