ZBA cancels Firetree hearing, looks to reschedule

Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Andy Conroy.

NORWALK, Conn. — It’s really just a matter of not being able to get a quorum, Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Andy Conroy said Thursday evening, after Quintard Avenue residents suffered another disappointment.

The ZBA abruptly cancelled part two of its emotional public hearing regarding a potential Quintard Avenue federal prisoner halfway house Thursday afternoon, less than three hours before it was to begin.

Part one of the hearing, on May 4, was four hours long. Ten Norwalkers spoke against the request from Firetree LTD to be allowed to open its halfway house, either by a reversal of Zoning’s refusal to issue a Certificate of Occupancy or by the issuance of a special exception. Other opponents went home, with some promising to speak at the next part of the hearing.

Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said the ZBA did not have a quorum for its Thursday meeting. Although some speculate that there were other reasons, Conroy assured NancyOnNorwalk that Kleppin’s account was accurate.

It’s a five-member Board with three alternates, he said. One member has recused himself and there were not enough members who could attend the hearing.

Conroy had an alternate, Lee Levey, attend part one of the hearing on May 4, saying that he was concerned about the possibility of being shorthanded later.

Other alternates are not up to speed and not following the issue, Conroy said Thursday.

Three members are needed for a quorum, the city’s charter states.

Kleppin’s email announcing the cancellation of the 7 p.m. hearing was sent to Quintard neighborhood leader Bob Weiner at 4:04 p.m.

“Sad but true,” Weiner said in forwarding the email to his neighbors.

“The Quintard Avenue Neighborhood Association was ready to defend the integrity of our area of one and two-family homes, as specified in the local zoning code, so it was disappointing to have another delay,” Weiner said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.

Donna, a NancyOnNorwalk commenter, speculated that Firetree had pulled the plug on the hearing, that it had been cancelled due to “Firetree’s last minute maneuvering.”

Conroy spoke of issues related to Firetree’s legal arguments, expressing doubt that the city’s legal department has had enough time to research claims made by Firetree. He wasn’t sure if the Corporation’s Counsel’s office would have had the answers Thursday night, but the hearing would have gone on, he said.

“If anything, we just wouldn’t have voted on it,” he said.

The rain date for the hearing was next week, and he expects to know Friday when the hearing will continue, he said.


5 responses to “ZBA cancels Firetree hearing, looks to reschedule”

  1. Donna

    Which member recused himself, why did he recuse himself and when was this decision made? The board scheduled this meeting themselves. I understand an alternate being unavailable or not up to speed at the 11th hour. It’s the 11th hour recusal part that has me scratching my head.

  2. Debora Goldstein


    Did Mr. Conroy conform that the acceptance of written public comment will be further extended through part 2 as rescheduled?

    There is already a ZBA special next week on other items.

    1. I just spoke to Mr. Conroy. The period for written comments has ended, he said. He is still trying to arrange a continuation of the public hearing.

  3. Donna

    Yesterday I spoke to Linda Kelleher, Town Clerk for the City of Reading, PA. Linda is also president of the College Heights Neighborhood Association, and Linda recounted a harrowing tale of their nearly 9 year long effort to stop Firetree (under the name Orange Stones) from opening a halfway house in her neighborhood. Because the town of Reading and the neighbors were able to find a lawyer who had not been previously contaminated in some way by Firetree, they have been able to successfully keep the Firetree monster at bay through challenges in the courts. When asked about Firetree, Linda said, “they’re snakes.”

    Here are some of the tactics Firetree employed in Reading:
    1. Allen Ertel (deceased) was told by an acquaintance NOT to buy the house in question becasue the neighbors would not permit the unwanted use. Ertel did it anyway, paying more than $900,000 cash for the property.

    2. Under the name Orange Stones, Firetree filed repeated INCOMPLETE zoning applications.
    When asked if this was likely deliberate on Firetree’s part, Linda Kelleher was emphatic that it was.
    3. The failure to file complete zoning applications landed Firetree in front of the zoning board multiple times. Presumably these repeat trips to the Zoning Board gave Firetree ammo for their court appeals.
    4. The College Heights neighbors, using their own counsel, a local land use expert who somehow had not been ruled out by potential conflict of interest, have been able to forestall Firetree’s incursion into their neighborhood through repeated legal challenges based on deed restrictions.
    5. Linda said, “we kicked their butts.” She suggested we make sure Firetree knows we’ve spoken to the people in Reading and that Firetree can expect the same in Norwalk that they got there.
    6. Linda emphasized that the neighborhood was mobilized to fight Firetree and remains so. They have spent over $100k in legal fees over the past nine years, in spite of receiving a considerable discount from their attorneys. Whenever there was a hearing, Linda said, “I made sure to put an ass in every seat.”
    7. It was Linda’s observation that Allen Ertel was the instigator in most of Firetree’s troublemaking. When Allen Ertel died in 2015, Linda and most others assumed Firetree would stop these underhanded tactics and learn to behave themselves. Under Amy Ertel’s leadership, they have not. Clearly, the bad apple does not fall far from the Firetree.
    8. Linda pointed to the town of Hamburg, PA. In that case a different unwanted use applicaaant was able to receive a permit to operate. However, the zoning board imposed prohibitive conditions upon the permit, stipulating number of employees required on site and thresholds for police calls, otherwise the operator would lose the permit. While no one in Norwalk wants to think about Firetree being granted a permit, it’s important to be prepared for this possibility. Conditions on the permit can be a useful way to make it difficult for Firetree to stay here. Their contract is for five years, and they may not seek a renewal if the conditions make it hard for Firetree to funnel off money to their other for profit businesses.

    To give an example of the kinds of conditions that the P&Z could impose, a parking ban on all employee vehicles jumps out. Make the employees park in a municiple lot at which they will have to pay. Put the same restriction on visitors. Require a minimum of 10 employees at any given time rather than the 5 Firetree says it plans to have. Since Firetree is known for lax security and hiring, require that employees pass background checks with the NPD, and that inmates are required to observe strict curfews.

    If others in Norwalk believe this is just a Quintard problem, think again. Quintard neighbors need the support of the entire City to fight this nine-headed hydra.

    If I was not convinced before I spoke to Linda Kellerher about Firetree’s sneaky, underhanded approach to getting its way, I am now. No doubt in my mind that the May 18th ZBA continuance of the Firetree application came as a result of last minute maneuvering by Firetree, Claiming conflict of interest is exactly the kind of tactic they have used in the past elsewhere.

  4. Donna

    Nancy, I just spoke to Aline Rochefort. No date yet for the rescheduled meeting. But Aline said ZBA would accept written comments from now until the hearing.

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