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Milligan demolishes building, claims Norwalk tried to void permit

The remains of 21 Isaacs St. sit Friday after being demolished.  Owner Jason Milligan provided the photo. (Contributed)

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 begins on 21 Isaacs St. Friday. (Photo provided by Jason Milligan)

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. 

13 comments

Rick August 18, 2018 at 7:02 am

Mr Coppola and Mr Mayor thanking Jason is in order.

Shame the Fire Dept didn’t have leadership(bigger than a marble) thanking Jason for getting rid of a building where homeless could of been where and manpower would have risked injury clearing the building during an incident.

Mr Coppola they say the old Y is in worst shape emergency personal are cautioned to go inside at all.

No one wants to see a RIT team go into action do they Mr Mayor?

For those not schooled in emergency response

A firefighter assist and search team (FAST), also known as a rapid intervention team/crew/dispatch (RIT/RIC/RID), is a team of two or more firefighters dedicated solely to the search and rescue of other firefighters in distress. FAST shall have no other operational assignment during an incident.

Where did the fire dept sit with this house? Or were the professionals directed to ignore their job and the safety of our finest?

Its tragic how Norwalk is run you have to wonder what makes it so appealing for a Democrat to run for office beside leadership like this?

Has Norwalk Hospital been served with a Blight Warning and Citation the Y is a rip down what is the city waiting for? Its obvious $200,000 dollar leadership is not enough to pay professionals to do their job. But lets give everyone a raise to keep their mouth shut Rilling is on a roll.

Maybe its time to pass the basket has city hall run out of money?

Good thing Jason didn’t have water in the basement where people were living it would be like Washington Village and God knows the city needs no competition renting slums and letting people live in squalor and danger.

Mr Mayor the money for South Norwalk from the mall would buy us Shotspotter almost every city in the country including Bridgeport is using it and you dont have to buy it rent it,it saves lives including police officers doesnt draw a pension and is available with a phone call.

Thanks Jason and Nancy this beats having a comic strip while having our coffee in the morning.

Dawn August 18, 2018 at 7:20 am

Oh my goodness. Someone who sees a problem and fixes it. Get out of the way of progress.
The battle who had bigger balls continues.

Mitch Adis August 18, 2018 at 9:00 am

Where was City hall when the historic building directly across the street was demolished WITHOUT a permit? The developer said “Oops, my bad” and that was that. Stop picking on Mr. Milligan! Let him fix Wall Street!

carol August 18, 2018 at 1:18 pm

you go Milligan,we need you to restore Norwalk and get rid of the old boy network that holds back progress.

Jason Milligan August 18, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Mario’s buddy Darren is recently hired in the Norwalk law department. We are to believe that Darren would on his own initiative request the building dept void a permit without Mario’ss knowledge or consent…?

Ya, That sounds likely.

Will he be reprimanded or disciplined?

The city is running out of scapegoats.

cc-rider August 18, 2018 at 6:33 pm

It appears as though the minds at City Hall are not as smart as they think the are. Milligan is couple steps ahead of them at every corner. City Hall is clueless in the real estate development business.

enough August 18, 2018 at 9:11 pm

I’m okay with progress but at what cost. How many more historic homes need to meet the wrecking ball? It is a shame that old victorian will be torn down at the YMCA, too bad it cannot be moved or saved some how. All the charm that was left on West Avenue is truly gone. This disaster of redevelopment just needs to stop, fix what we have and just stop adding apartments. Keep it low key and give Norwalk that old small town feel it use to have. I am not even 40 yet and it sickens me to see how awful the changes are that this city is going through. We almost have no historic or cultural identify left other than the markers that have been put up, or pictures in books.

Jason M. August 19, 2018 at 4:09 pm

Mario is the head attorney for the city. He is in charge of the law office. The other attorneys in the law office are his subordinates.

Mario’s law office attempted to void a valid building permit.

1 of 2 things is true. Either Mario has no control over the law office he is in charge of or he was complicit in the attempt to void a valid permit

​Mario Coppola is a very slick attorney. He ignores the allegation that he was behind the rogue behavior and instead gives a very carefully worded response that sounds like a denial but it is not!

“Jason over the last year or two has said many things about me that are completely untrue,” Coppola said. (This statement does not say that what I have just said was untrue. It is a blanket statement covering 2 years. Let’s hear the specific untrue statements, more particularly statements about the demo permit!)

“I was away with my family on vacation this week. (This is irrelevant. I was away camping with my family when this article was published and I rode my bike a half mile to get Wifi to leave a comment.)

“I didn’t talk to Attorney Callahan regarding this matter this week. I didn’t discuss anything with him” (Also irrelevant if Mario spoke to Darren “This week” or earlier. It is entirely possible that Darren was deliberately given instructions prior to Mario’s vacation so Mario would have an alibi).

“…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.” (Read carefully, Mario does not deny knowledge or involvement in Darren’s behavior. He then hides behind the pending litigation that he created! Litigation that is very arbitrary, highly capricious and perhaps vexatious. The irony is that Mario has accused me of Tortious interference, also known as intentional interference with contractual relations​, and then his law office tries to interfere with my building permit. Hypocrite??

Enough is a Enough. What should Norwalk do when their top attorney has run amok?

Jason M. August 19, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Russo & Rizio were removed because they had represented McClutchy in the past when McClutchy has nothing whatever to do with this. He just might get involved in the future.

Mario clearly has personal animosity.

The common council should demand an explanation and remove him from this situation and replace with independent council!!

Buji August 19, 2018 at 6:55 pm

Maybe this great Mayor can give you a milligan on this one in the interest of progress? 10 years of this and the Duleep disaster is wearing on that entire area.

Lisa Brinton Thomson August 19, 2018 at 8:10 pm

@ Buji, Very funny. What isn’t funny is City Hall’s alternating bungling and bullying tactics over the years, courtesy of our hard earned taxpayer dollars. As for Milligan’s mulligan – not tithing to the party machine.

EnoPride August 19, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Wow!!! Thank you Jason Milligan, for obliterating some blight in this Wall Street area. Some progress here… No building is exponentially better than a blighted building in this case. Just like that, you have improved the area!
Unfortunate if the powers that be tried to get in the way of this demolition by stopping an issued permit. Double standard hypocrisy if what Mitch Adis mentioned in his post is true that a developer nearby demolished a building without a permit and City Hall conveniently turned a blind eye for their own intents and purposes.

Clearly, City Hall is wasting a lot of time and money having it out for you, Mr. Milligan, when they should instead be sitting at a table and working with you to proactively start getting this area in order. Perhaps they should look at this whole situation from a different perspective, forgive you for the Land Disposition Agreement nonsense (clearly they give other favored developers a pass), and maybe be grateful that they have a ready, willing and capable developer who is passionate to break some ground and generate some progress.

Completely agree though with @enough that it is a shame that these colonial homes which are being swallowed up by the massive box apartment buildings that City Hall is so fond of voting through unanimously are coming down. Wall Street Place, should it go through as per it’s original design, will be yet one more uninspired, too large-scale and disproportionate box building to add to the growing family of honking, disproportionate box buildings all over Norwalk. It will detract from the historic charm of some of the surrounding buildings’ architecture rather than integrate harmoniously with it. I always envisioned a row of smaller scale townhouses, similar in height to the surrounding buildings, with a facade that blended in with the historic buildings design-wise, in that locale. The scale should be such that the apartments showcase the amazing surrounding businesses (Pontos Taverna, Garden Cinemas, Wall Street Theater), rather than dwarf and diminish them. Behind the townhouses and in front of Garden Cinemas could be a circular courtyard/public garden space with benches, lamppost-lined sidewalks, maybe a fountain or outdoor sculpture. Cultural hubs in successful cities have outdoor spaces such as this to bring the community out to socialize. I wish City Hall could somehow hold Citibank or whomever accountable for this unfinished Tyvek Temple debacle, have them demolish the monstrosity, and start from scratch.

Getting off path here, but why was the Norwalk Historical Society not prominently heard from when this giant box building Wall Street Place was conceived for such a rich in history neighborhood? Perhaps the Norwalk Historical Society was not included in the decision making in this area because City Hall only has eyes ($$) for the big developers? It is a shame, really. These big eyesore buildings should not be in every corner of Norwalk. They erase the character of this city.

Why is City Hall constantly selling out to these massive box apartments? Really, what are they thinking? The volume of people these buildings bring in is obviously disproportionate to the economic activity/commerce and to the infrastructure in this city. How sustainable is this imbalance now and in the long run? Taxes go up and up, highways and roads become more jammed up, generate even more pollution, and schools burst at the seams with overpopulation. Recently read that Norwalk has gained about a school’s worth of children (300, I think?) for the coming school year. Oh, and City Hall squirms when BOE has to ask for more money to fund all these children year after year. BOE is not bringing in this population boom, City Hall, you are voting the boom in with your frivolous, pro big development stance. No more apartments!!!!!!

Patrick Cooper August 20, 2018 at 11:50 am

I stood in front of POKO #1 a year ago – with then candidate Lisa Brinton Thomson – and as it stands – not a single change. Not one. Do nothing mayor, do nothing RDA.

Not far away – was the Duleep fiasco – Norwalk’s 10 years a slave building – with such a litany of excuses for why it could not, would not show progress. Norwalk lulled into an alternate reality. In less time – NY built the 2nd Tappan Zee bridge. NoN’s last article about the little snail that couldn’t was July 25th – said it’s exterior would be completed in 10 days. Do you buy it? To Rick’s point – it’s nothing compared to POKO – but worthy of comparison.

Harry mumbles, stumbles, side-speaks and then checks with his dual mouth pieces – the acting mayor Laoise – and the power behind all the shenanigans – Coppola. All that “star” power – all the agencies stacked with hand-picked “similar vision” cronies, and they still can’t’ shoot straight.

Meanwhile, Mr. Milligan, buys several plots, and then – shock of shocks – begins to refurbish a property. Tears down a home unfit for rats. And get this – YOUR mayor’s council – tries to stop it. You see – progress makes them look bad. And we can’t have that. No – bad optics. People (voters) might start asking hard questions – like – why do we need an RDA? Why is Harry so involved in land use? Why did he hire a land use attorney as his consiglieri? WTH is going on?

Norwalk – what do you want? Progress or politics?

This is so typical Norwalk. Blaming those who succeed with – succeeding. That is just infuriating. Stop it – it makes our entire city look bad.

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