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Mislaid bricks lead to new Milligan legal issue with Norwalk

There’s a brook next to Brook House, although you don’t notice it when driving on North Avenue. Brook House is owned by IJ Group, a Jason Milligan legal entity.

NORWALK, Conn. — Real estate broker Jason Milligan has run afoul of another Norwalk governmental body.

Milligan, and two Norwalk citizens caught in the mire, have been issued Cease & Restore orders by the Norwalk Conservation Commission. Milligan, under IJ Group LLC, is accused of “causing the degradation of a wetland and watercourse through unauthorized clearing, grading and filling.” In other words, of not getting a permit to alter land alongside a waterway.

Betts Brook, as seen from behind 43 North Ave.

Norwalk Senior Environmental Engineer Alexis Cherichetti maintains that fill was deposited in 2018 along Betts Brook, behind 37 North Ave., which Milligan, under IJ Group, has owned since 2015.

Milligan says that while he didn’t put fill there, it’s possible the river deposited it during a storm. He also links the Conservation Commission’s refusal to grant leeway in the matter to the multiple lawsuits he’s fighting with the City. And he claims Cherichetti’s maps are faulty.

“There’s a lot of innuendo and a lot of allegation,” Milligan said during the Feb. 25 Conservation Commission hearing on the matter. “…There’s no facts here. The only way we’re going to get the facts is through litigation, and that I fear is the path that it would go down.”

Milligan’s got plenty of experience in litigation with the City. Under Wall Street Opportunity Fund LLC and Milligan Real Estate, he was sued by the City and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency in late 2018 for buying properties that were slated to become part of the Wall Street Place development, (a.k.a.  “POKO”), in defiance of the Land Disposition Agreement for the parcels. That lawsuit is ongoing. He has since sued the Redevelopment Agency in an attempt to invalidate the recently approved Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan. And, he’s suing Citibank over a POKO-related matter.

“While we await the removal of the grey box on my property I thought it would blend in better if it were fenced off and wrapped in the City colors,” Jason Milligan wrote in April. (Contributed) He later removed the Tyvek from the actual box and put up a Tyvek-covered partition instead.

There’s also a new lawsuit that hasn’t been served on the City yet. Milligan is seeking damages due to a traffic box installed on his property at 69 Wall St. An easement for the alley the box is in was granted to the Norwalk Parking Authority in 1956. Milligan bought the property in December 2018. He claims that the easement doesn’t allow the traffic box there.

Last summer, City officials accused Milligan of doing demolition without a permit after a worker burst a sprinkler pipe at 31-39 Wall St., flooding the businesses below. The businesses have since been completely rebuilt by Milligan.

Milligan promised to appeal a Cease & Restore Order.

 

Reaching out for help, getting into hot water

Problems began for Carol and Lawrence Freding in June 2018, when they noticed brush being dumped behind 37 North Ave. onto their property at 40 East Ave., Cherichetti said at the February meeting.

The City’s GIS (geographic information system) website shows the land owned by Carol and Lawrence Freding, at 40 East Ave., and the brook running through it. The parcel highlighted in green is the land being cited as a violation.

Although it’s their property, the Fredings can’t access it without going through Milligan’s parking lot at 37 North Ave. Their property is bisected by Betts Brook.

Carol Freding emailed Milligan and got a reply from Mark Hertzler, writing from a Milligan Realty email account. The brush had been dumped there by a landscaper the previous winter, and the landscaper didn’t work for IJ Group anymore, Hertzler said. He promised to put a stop to the practice and to ask the new landscaper to return the area to its original state.

It seemed like the problem was resolved until a year later, when the Fredings discovered a pile of bricks dumped on their property on Milligan’s side of the Brook, Attorney Stephanie Laska said.  They reached out to the City, “doing the right thing and being rewarded for their efforts by getting cited then for what appears to be some kind of landscaping that occurred on their property, but without their knowledge, consent, approval. They never hired anyone.”

The lot had been undisturbed for 25 years, Laska said. It’s something the Fredings see out their window and have done nothing to.

“They’re between a rock and a hard place because they can’t fix this if they wanted to. From where their house sits, there is no way to get construction equipment into that area without …crossing over Betts Brook,” she explained. That would mean going through 37 North Ave., but, “we’ve actually had mutual cease and desist letters against each other to prevent any other infringement on this property.”

The Fredings “are really the victims in something that they’re now trying to find their way out of after calling for help,” she continued.

A photo on file in the Norwalk Conservation Office, showing bricks behind 37 North Ave.

Milligan acknowledges he had the bricks put there.

“I’m renovating another historic property,” Milligan said. “We had a lot of these bricks and it broke my heart to throw them away and put them in a dumpster. And I had some people that wanted them for free lined up, but I needed to get them out of the space they were in. I put them on what I believed was the property of IJ Group, on the shoulder of the parking lot. I still question whether or not that is in the wetlands area. I’ve now come to believe that part of it was my neighbor’s property, but at the time, I did not understand that to be true.”

Everyone agrees that the bricks have been removed. But Cherichetti says she discovered fill on the brook’s bank while investigating the bricks.

“Wetland issues ‘run with the land’ so all property owners with land involved received enforcement orders,” she wrote Tuesday.

 

 

‘Possible if not probable’

Cherichetti referred to fill creating a “flat lawn area” behind 37 North Ave.

“I don’t, I don’t know anything about it,” Milligan said. “I did not put any fill there. I did not do any clearing there. I did not authorize either of those activities. No representative, no agent did, we did not benefit from that activity. And so, and I take issue with a lot of allegations and assumptions that are being made.

Milligan later said, “There have been a number of storms and it is possible, if not probable … if there’s any fill… there could have come from a secretion of the river.”

“Would I have to use my imagination to picture that?” Commissioner Steven Klocke asked.

“I don’t know. Do you have one?” Milligan replied.

A photo on file in the Norwalk Conservation Office. “The red line is the approximate extent of fill. The fill can be seen and measured on site and is also visible in the 2019 aerial photograph,” Norwalk Senior Environmental Engineer Alexis Cherichetti wrote Tuesday. “The fill encroached about 35 feet into the wetland and is about 50 feet from Betts Brook.”

Milligan questioned Cherichetti’s maps, calling one a “tax thing,” and at one point asserted, “I think this was crudely done. I think Alexis admits that.”

“I don’t,” she snapped, later referring to “extremely accurate topographies” from 2016, showing a slope with an incline of one foot, and multiple photographs. She also had aerial photographs taken in 2007 and a 2019.

“So we’re confident that there was fill,” Commissioner John Moeling said.

Milligan again questioned the documentation. “It’s not on my property,” he said. “She’s trying to wrap me in there and she’s talked to the law department who I have a big history with. I’m in five lawsuits with them right now. So, I have a big issue with how I’m getting roped into this.”

 

‘Highly questionable’

“Your rules have evolved over time,” Milligan said. “Wetlands have become more and more protected and (that’s) probably a good thing. But clearly, both sides of the river would not be allowed to do what they have done previously, there’s sheds all along there. There’s walls that are built in, that you would never allow… (and) another parking lot like 10 feet from the river. So this fill, it is highly questionable. About how much was put there, when was it put there? And I say it’s (very small) and I had no involvement in it. Neither did they.”

“Well, I would only say we do our best,” Moeling replied. “OK, we don’t catch absolutely everything on time. We have to do the best we can with what we can uncover based on aerial surveys, based on topography, based on professional opinions from soil scientists and the rest…. effectively the wetlands were infringed upon and we have to figure out what the what the outcome of that is going to be.”

A photo on file in the Norwalk Conservation Office.

Milligan said he feels bad for the Fredings.

“Is it truly affecting anything that’s happening here? Are we sure what happened?” he asked. “I mean, they’re going to bear the brunt of this. Do they have recourse for that brunt later? Probably. But that’s how it ends up happening. Unfortunately, if there was anything that happened there, I do not believe they did it. And they’re going to be held responsible for restoring it, or fixing it or doing it or measuring it or, you know, proving that they have a problem.”

He continued, “I don’t think you have an enforcement arm that goes and measures and surveys stuff. And if you do, I might get in the business of looking out for wetlands issues. I’d like to see how proactive you guys would be. There’s a million situations like this, a million, and if it doesn’t matter how it happened, and that’s on the burden of the homeowner to prove how it got there. I mean, it could be a storm. But should they go prove that it was a storm that brought stuff there?”

 

‘Snowflake’

Milligan has since had an email exchange with Klocke, a Commissioner who did much of the talking during the hearing. One of those emails prompted Klocke to call the police.

Klocke did not respond to an email from NancyOnNorwalk asking about this.

“Snow Flake Steve Klocke” feels differently “when people are scrutinizing his property,” Milligan wrote to NancyOnNorwalk, sharing the email, in which he called out possible issues with Klocke’s house.

“I have pulled the permit file and see a remodel in 2013. I wonder if everything was properly certified and closed out?” Milligan wrote to Klocke.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan. (File photo)

He called Klocke “a sucker from Brooklyn” for buying the home in 2012, and wrote, “You have been on one side of city commissions wrath. I wonder how you might enjoy being on the other side if one or more out of {control} agencies? You will see that sometimes when you are ignorant, innocent or right you still end up spending lots of money proving it. Making sure that you look out for the ‘public good’ can be expensive.”

Other accusations included one about Klocke’s father-in-law. This followed an attempt to have coffee with Klocke, who backed out after consulting with Cherichetti and the law department, according to Milligan.

Milligan shared this information with NancyOnNorwalk after being asked if he’s going to appeal the Cease & Restore, as he promised during the hearing.

Milligan has filed a Freedom of Information request seeking any and all documentation and communication that Cherichetti and Klocke “have sent and received from anyone that has anything whatever to do with 37 North Ave or 40 East Ave.” He’d like to know the first time they contacted Corporation Counsel to discuss the properties.

He’s reviewing his legal options while awaiting the results of the FOI request, he said.

“Keep in mind my property has zero wetlands issues or violations,” he wrote.

“If the directives are not complied with, the City would have to pursue enforcement with the filing for a temporary injunction in state Superior Court,” Cherichetti wrote Tuesday.

The Fredings and their lawyer did not reply to a late afternoon email from NancyOnNorwalk seeking to see what their plans are.

Milligan wrote, “I realize that this latest issue will probably not play well for me. It is just one more issue that I am tangled up in. I would rather not be involved in this mess. There is zero upside for me!”

This story was copy edited at 2:30p.m., and more information was added. Additional copy edits at 11:45 p.m. Thursday to clarify who Steven Klocke is.

4 comments

Jason Milligan March 10, 2020 at 7:46 am

Nancy you claim, “The easement for that box was granted in 1956.”

That is a pretty bold statement. Can you back it up? If so I imagine you will be the 1st witness.

The 1956 easement was granted to the Parking Authority so that pedestrians could walk to and from the parking lot that the city donated to POKO! And the Parking Authority also had the right to make repairs to the walkway and fire escapes.

Residente March 12, 2020 at 11:11 pm

It says Klocke was someone who filed a complaint.. and the developer calls him “Snow Flake Steve Klocke”.. The developer Milligan called him “a sucker from Brooklyn” looking at a transaction from 8 years ago.

Milligan once dumped bricks on his neighbors property only to realize that his “belief” at the time was wrong.. shocking he’s tied up in multiple lawsuits..

Nancy Chapman March 12, 2020 at 11:26 pm

Steven Klocke is a Conservation Commissioner.

“Would I have to use my imagination to picture that?” Commissioner Steven Klocke asked.

“I don’t know. Do you have one?” Milligan replied

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