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$2M settlement passes: City to buy 127 Fillow, help Al Madany find new mosque site

NORWALK, Conn. – The Common Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a settlement that puts an end to the Al Madany Islamic Center’s lawsuit against Norwalk and the Zoning Commission and prevents a mosque from being built at 127 Fillow Street.

Instead, the city will purchase the West Norwalk property for market price – $585,000 – and help Al Madany find a more acceptable location. In addition, Norwalk will make payments totaling as much as $1,447,500 for Al Madany’s legal expenses and damages, plus “reasonable” development costs for the new property.

Mayor Harry Rilling, the target of West Norwalk residents’ wrath since it it was revealed that the city would try to settle the suit out of court, said he is “proud of the city. We did it right. We discussed things … came up with the best possible solution. Going forward, that is how Norwalk is going to continue to work.”

Council Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District C) acknowledged the payout is expensive.

“Absolutely, it’s a lot of money,” Petrini said. “I just want to let you know, if we had gone into litigation it could have been multimillion dollars. … I think your money would be better placed helping a congregation that wants to have a place of worship rather than going to court.”

Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) tossed bouquets to Rilling and to Corporation Council Mario Coppola, who also has suffered the barbs of those in favor of rejecting aa settlement.

“This was a very long and tedious process,” Simms said. “I never knew that so much goes into a settlement like this. … I want to thank Mayor Rilling for his leadership, and thank my Council counterparts for being flexible. … Mario deserves a round of applause. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

Simms added a welcome to the Al Madany congregation, still without a home: “You guys are great, glad to have you here.”

Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), the youngest Council member, represents part of the West Norwalk area that was concerned about the impact of the mosque on traffic.

“This is what government is about. This is how we get things done,” Melendez said. “I for one am excited to have a mosque in Norwalk. Diversity keeps us strong.”

Read our complete mosque issue coverage to date here.

 

Norwalk-Al Madany settlement 001

Original story:

Updated  9:34 p.m. The Common Council voted  unanimously to approve an agreement to buy the property at 127 Fillow St. in West Norwalk and help Al Madany Islamic Center find a new location for a mosque. More details below.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Al Madany Islamic Center mosque suit settlement terms to be presented at tonight’s Common Council meeting closely – but not totally – resemble what was reported by NancyOnNorwalk two weeks ago.

 

According to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola:

a.           Settlement Payments. The City shall pay Al Madany $307,500 as reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs incurred by Al Madany in the Litigation, payable within 30 days; and the sum of $925,000 in settlement of Al Madany’s claims for damages in the litigation.

b.           Sale of the Property to the City. The City has obtained an appraisal which concludes that the fair market value of the Property is $585,000, and Al Madany has agreed to sell the Property to the City for that amount.

c.             New Mosque Location. The following City officials will work in good faith with Al Madany for no less than two years to locate an acceptable alternative property: Director of Economic Development, Director of Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, Director of Planning and Zoning, Corporation Counsel and Mayor. If and when Al Madany identifies an acceptable alternative property, the City shall reimburse Al Madany up to $215,000 for the reasonable out-of-pocket development costs incurred by Al Madany at a new property, which may include legal, engineering and architectural fees, and costs associated with landscaping services and traffic calming measures, but shall not include any costs of interior design relating to the exercise of Al Madany’s religious faith. The City must receive satisfactory written evidence that Al Madany has incurred such costs.

Two weeks ago, the Council tabled action after for further discussion after lengthy public comments and an offer by a spokesman for Al Madany to delay building for two years while they search for an alternative location to the 127 Fillow St. site if the city agrees to the negotiated settlement.

Shortly after, proposed settlement term leaked out of a closed Council session. Those terms, reported here, had the city’s insurance company making the $307,500 payment and included $1 million payment instead of $925,000. It did not include the additional $215,000.

The total sum to be paid by Norwalk taxpayers would be up to $2,032,500.

This story will be updated.

Comments

32 responses to “$2M settlement passes: City to buy 127 Fillow, help Al Madany find new mosque site”

  1. Notaffiliated

    Why don’t they look at property in Darien, Westport or somewhere else?

  2. Notaffiliated

    Is there a way to back into what this cost the average tax payer in Norwalk? If someone for example is paying $30,000 in taxes, how much of $2mm is that family’s burden?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Notaffiliated

      We will aak this question when Tom Hamilton (finance director) is available, but when we asked about continuing the suit, he gave us the low figure based on $4 million in legal fees. The $2M settlement is added to the current legal bill, so it could be near that ballpark — we will find out:

      $4.0 million of expenses added to the current FY 2014-15 budget would increase the mill rate by .3445 or an additional $124.54 of taxes on the $361,489 average assessed single family home

  3. Screwed Taxpayer

    Extortion. Plain and simple.

  4. Jeff

    Does this figure include the dollars spent on retaining outside counsel (Marci, et al)?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Jeff

      It does not include legal expenses incurred by the city. Those are separate and must be paid regardless of any settlement or trial. And those fees keep on growing as long as there is no resolution.

  5. Jeff

    Thanks. I would think the property buy back would eventually get netted out of the settlement based on its fair market value less commission. It’s baffling why the in house counsel couldn’t have offered this initially rather than draw it out for approximately two years and continue to retain high priced lawyers. The legal fees in year one may have offset this.

  6. LWitherspoon

    What was Al Madany’s purchase price of the Fillow St. property?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @L Witherspoon

      Nancy recalls it being $560,000

  7. michael foley

    Time To Vote a New Council in !

  8. Carol

    so the people of norwalk lose again this is totally unacceptable to pay out all this money. wonder what the end costs will be to the taxpayer-this bill will surely cost more before it is over’ norwalk better get it’s act together as this has started a president.

  9. Dennis DiManis

    It already was time to vote a new council in.

  10. Greene Has to Go.

    This expense should be billed to Mike Greene, the Planning and Zoning Director who helped dismantle the regulations that encouraged the mosque to buy this property in the first place. Greene should resign or be fired.

  11. Amanda

    I hope all of Norwalk will realize that West Norwalk fought a battle for the TOWN, not just our neighborhood. Our current P&Z regs allow this to happen ANYWHERE. This has been incredibly difficult (and I came in late to this, only moving to W. Norwalk 1.5 yrs ago). It has been an expensive lesson. We need to reform P&Z now. I hope everyone takes that into consideration before complaining about the settlement cost. Thanks to all who fought so hard.

  12. Lisa Thomson

    It was time to settle this dispute. But the back-slapping, self congratulatory tone of many Common Council members tonite was frustrating and angering. Let’s not forget that this lawsuit came about due to a combination of outdated regulations, incompetency and cronyism. Start updating the regulations for the sake of the Norwalk taxpayer or sadly, this won’t be the last lawsuit-settlement the council votes on.

  13. Dennis DiManis

    Vote them all out.

  14. WOW just WOW

    Disgusting
    The Mayor and the Council must be voted out. I wonder if the city charter allows for a recall election for the Mayor and Council members?

  15. Casey Smith

    To those who want to vote out the Council Members….two quick points…
    .
    #1 – The Council Members have nothing to do with the Zoning Commission. The problem here was the Zoning Regulations. The Council Members just voted to settle the matter before it dragged on ad infinitum, costing us even more. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s frustrating and yes, I’m angry about it.
    .
    #2 – Here’s the choice the Council Members had to make in very simple terms…pay the money by purchasing the property back now or go back to court and possibly lose the case and pay even more while the mosque is built on a dangerous, narrow street. You can call it “cost containment” or “damage control” or whatever, but they stopped the financial hemorrhage.
    .
    Bottom line, we can pay now or we can pay even more later. Your choice. But blaming the Council for this unmitigated disaster is unfair. They didn’t start this mess, but they’ll surely be paying for it just like the rest of us. The price tag is steep, but the mosque won’t be built on Fillow Street.

  16. anon

    Fire Mario Coppola.

  17. Lisa Thomson

    Does this settlement by the city, give Save Farm Creek supporters the precedent we need to fight Mr. Beinfield and the City of Norwalk based upon broken zoning code and FAR (floor area ratios) for building on an abandoned trolley line in the wetlands?

  18. David

    @Casey: there was actually another option available to the common council – NOT go back to court. People are calling for the common councils removal because they just woke up to a million dollar tax bill with nothing to show for it. No new capital, no new services, no green space, no school investment. Nothing except a precedent if this happens again.

  19. John Hamlin

    This is the only way Norwalk can protect its residents from lawful and compliant but unwanted building and other actions by individual property owners — buy them off. This is the nail in the coffin of any argument that our planning and zoning is effective in Norwalk. Those who have been responsible for it for the past 10 years or so need to be held responsible and sensible reforms need to be instituted.

  20. Don’t Panic

    @Lisa Thomson,
    RLUIPA does not factor into the Nearwater issue. And unfortunately, even if the FAR and other problems with the zoning code are fixed, those changes would not apply retroactively.

  21. ProgressforConnecticut

    Well, NIMBYism sure proved itself expensive in Norwalk! Instead of allowing these folks to build their Mosque the residents went screaming and kicking to the town to complain. This is what caused the settlement, and the NIMBY’s can choke on the expense now. I also have to wonder if it was a group of Christian’s who wanted to build a church would the good townsfolks be so adamantly opposed?

  22. Aga Khan

    @ProgressforCT WORD!

  23. Casey Smith

    @ David – You stated that the residents ” work up to million dollar tax bill with nothing to show for it”. I respectfully disagree. The residents ended up with two things.
    .
    First, the City will own the property. I can’t speak to whether it will be green space or not, that ironically will ultimately be up to the administration and Zoning.
    .
    Secondly, the residents actually achieved what they wanted, which is not having the mosque located on Fillow Street.
    .
    That is what everyone claimed this was about, right?

  24. Amanda

    @ProgressforCT: Thanks for your uninformed opinion. What caused the settlement was the mosque congregation suing the city for discrimination under RLUIPA. You clearly don’t live in Norwalk.

  25. Stan Muzyk

    And I thought we had problems in Derby. I’m glad that Derby is the land-locked smallest city in the state and does have the room to accomodate growth and fall into the legal trap that Norwalk taxpayers now have to pay for.

  26. Suzanne

    PforC: You clearly do not live in Norwalk as previously mentioned but you are certainly unaware of the issues and why this result, though expensive, is the right one. This what NOT about NIMBYism and, in fact, I believe the mosque would have been welcomed on Fillow Street should there have been enough land in a safe place, traffic wise, to accommodate it. Due to Zoning mis-direction and after Al Madany had worked on their plans for sometime, they were told the project would not be approved. Enter RLUIPA, the REAL reason this went to court and was a negotiated settlement. Get it? NIMBY is not spelled RLUIPA. The former was what it was not about, the latter what it became because of mis-direction, incompetence and out-dated Zoning regulations in Norwalk.

  27. Wineshine

    @PforCT, Ilive nowhere near the site and voiced my opinions against the project from the beginning. Your assessment is at best uninformed, knee jerk and a shot-in-the-dark

  28. Born and Raised Norwalk

    So what neighborhood will bully their way into next?

  29. Michael

    I grew up in Norwalk and left in 1990 … Thank you very much! … So screwed up there … The city never new the meaning of zoning and most likely never will … that is why it is such a crappy, dirty, mismanaged place to like … let alone EXPENSIVE!!! Just wait W. Norwalk … They will be putting up a Stop & Go gas station on that corner in a few years … What a dump! Why would anyone want to live like this?

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