Updated, 2:20 p.m.: Comments from Mario Coppola and Jason Milligan, story edited.
NORWALK, Conn. — A Superior Court judge has been asked to stop the Norwalk Common Council from voting Tuesday to clear the way for the revised “POKO” development.
Real estate broker Jason Milligan is seeking an emergency injunction to prevent the changes to the Land Disposition Agreement needed by JHM group to move forward with its revised plan for the mixed use development on the corner of Wall and Issacs Streets, formally called Wall Street Place. The City argues that Milligan does not have legal “standing” to request such an injunction because he is not party to the LDA, and states that his action is premature. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola charged that Milligan is trying to force the City to include him in the deal, so he can make a profit.
Milligan has filed for the injunction under the auspices of the lawsuit filed against him by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the City, accusing him of unfair trade practices in his purchase of property governed by that LDA, lots that were slated to become part of Wall Street Place phases II and III.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, ahead of the Council meeting where the revised plan will be considered. The City has asked Judge Charles Lee to dismiss Milligan’s motion for an emergency injunction.
‘It’s a lie’
Milligan, in the court filing, claims that the City would be attempting to make him accountable to a modified LDA should the Council vote to greenlight the requested changes. He also reasserts that the LDA is invalid as the 2004 redevelopment plan it was based upon has expired. Since he has asked the Court to rule on that accusation, he asks that the Court prevent the LDA from being amended and undermining his claim, saying that “the proverbial horse will have left the barn.”
“The City and RDA are trying to ram an amendment down the throats of Norwalk citizens in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of the summer,” Attorney David Rubin, representing Milligan, said in an email.
Coppola called that a “bold-faced lie.”
The revised proposal, developed during a year’s worth of off-the-public’s-radar-screen talks, was made public on June 25 when the agenda for the July 2 Council Planning Committee meeting went online. The Committee approved the proposal and the full Council is set to consider it Tuesday, and possibly vote on it. The meeting will be held online only, with the public will be able to speak through the Zoom platform.
“Attorney Rubin totally mischaracterized the Council’s handling of the pending proposal to amend the Land Disposition Agreement (‘LDA’) and Loan Recognition Agreement (‘LRA’) associated with the Wall Street Place Project,” Coppola wrote. “This proposal has been pending before the Common Council for more than one year. During that time, the Common Council has reviewed countless documents and conducted numerous public meetings to discuss the proposal at length. It is a bold face lie for Attorney Rubin to state that ‘the City and RDA are trying to ram an amendment down the throats of Norwalk citizens in the middle of a pandemic in the middle of the summer’ when this proposal has been literally pending before the Common Council for many months before the Covid-19 pandemic started.”
Rubin explained his client’s position thusly:
“Any vote by the Common Council to amend the LDA comes with great risk. There is a Motion for Summary Judgment and Counterclaims before the Court that the 2004 Redevelopment Plan expired in 2018 and was replaced by the 2019 Redevelopment Plan, and that the LDA is therefore unenforceable. If that is the case, any amendment would be invalid as a matter of law. We are asking the Court to delay a vote or the execution of any amendment until those pending issues are determined by the Judge.
“Also, the LDA clearly states that all parties must agree in writing to any amendment. That is being circumvented here. Rather, the City and RDA are entering into an amendment without the approval of all signatories, and they further are adding the signatures of Municipal Holdings and JHM, neither of which signed the original LDA.
“Its a mess. If the City and RDA want to do this deal relative to Phase I, they should just enter into a new agreement with JHM and Municipal Holdings to do the deal. They are trying to have their cake and eat it to by materially amending Phase I and maintaining their claims against Jason and ILSR relative to Phases II and III.”
“Our Mayor and his team are quite possibly the worst negotiators on the planet. They give away the store if you dazzle them with enough fancy attorneys and consultants. After going underground for a year they are trying to jam this awful project through,” Milligan said.
‘No valid grounds’
Milligan’s request for an injunction “makes a mockery” of the legal concepts at play, Attorney Joseph Williams, representing the Redevelopment Agency, wrote in a legal brief filed Friday. “Our Supreme Court has recognized that courts may interfere with ballot initiatives ‘if the proposed legislation clearly exceeds the legislative power of the electorate’…but the Milligan Defendants have not come close to meeting such a standard.”
“There are no valid grounds for the emergency injunction that the Milligan defendants recently filed which seeks to bar the Common Council from voting on the proposed amendments to the LDA and LRA, which have been pending before the Common Council for more than one year,” Coppola wrote. “The bottom line is that Mr. Milligan is simply trying to prevent the building at the Phase I Wall Street Place project from getting completed to avoid losing his leverage to sell the Phase II parking lot that he improperly purchased without the Redevelopment Agency’s consent. The other properties in the Wall Street area will be greatly benefited when the buildings at the Phase I project get completed. Mr. Milligan will do whatever he can to try to delay the buildings from getting completed unless and until the parties are willing to include him in a deal where he will profit.”
Milligan recently offered Citibank $5.5 million for Phase I. On Friday, he said that’s a legitimate offer.
“I stand by it but I do not expect Citibank to respond,” he wrote. “I made that offer because Citibank made the claim in their proposal that $5.5 million was the very best that they could hope for if the current proposal were to be approved and built. If $5.5 million is the best-case scenario after years of approvals and construction and litigation then surely Citibank would take $5.5 million now to avoid the years of hassle.”
It would cost $500,000 to demolish the “Tyvek Temple,” he said. Demolishing just the unused concrete deck that closes off the alley way would be $200,000.
NancyOnNorwalk asked why he hadn’t spent the last year seeking public support for alternatives to completing the project.
“I had been quiet publicly out of respect to the people that work in Norwalk government that I like and respect. There are many. I have tried to let some of those people work through the cumbersome, outdated and inefficient process,” he wrote.
NancyOnNorwalk asked why stakeholders should believe his motives are based on a desire to help the Wall Street area, that he’s not just looking to get out from under a lawsuit and make a profit.
“All that you need to do is open your eyes as you drive or walk through the Wall Street and Isaacs Street area. There is no doubt that I care about Wall Street. I have invested my entire life and livelihood into the area and I am doubling and tripling down,” he replied. “I have barely gotten started on my efforts to help improve the area. Buckle up.”