ZBA chairman explains meeting cancellation

Firetree LTD Vice President Amy Ertel, second from left, sits with her legal team at the May 4 Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing in City Hall.

Correction/clarification, 4:10 p.m.: Second email was from Rich Bonenfant.

NORWALK, Conn. — A mistake led to the cancellation of Thursday’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, ZBA Chairman Andy Conroy said Friday.

Commissioner Keith Lyon sent an email to a Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort, telling her he agreed with her decision to deny Firetree LTD a Certificate of Occupancy for its Quintard Avenue facility, Conroy said. Since his mind was made up before the end of the hearing, Firetree demanded that he recuse himself, according to Conroy.

Firetree also asked Conroy to recuse himself, but he refused, he said.

Lyon did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s not any great crime,” Conroy said, but the goal is to be as fair as possible and, “You can’t be fair if you have made your mind up already.”

Quintard Avenue residents on Friday speculated that Firetree had stepped in at the last minute with legal maneuvering, causing the hearing to be cancelled.

Lyon’s email was provided to Firetree as a normal part of the process, with Planning and Zoning and the Zoning Board of Appeals following proper procedures, Conroy said.

He didn’t know when Firetree received the email, he said.

Some would have thought it possible for Lyon to apologize and promise to take in additional information, but Conroy doesn’t think that acceptable, he said.

“The bell is rung, so we’re not going to go in that direction,” Conroy said. “Lyon didn’t want to go that direction either, he feels the same way I do about it. He made a mistake and the mistake excludes him from continuing on the Board at this particular hearing. Board members occasionally screw up.”

Firetree demanded that Conroy recuse himself because he forwarded an email from Common Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large), objecting to the halfway house, to the entire Board and two staff members who are involved, Conroy said.

“I said no, I wouldn’t do that. We follow procedures,” Conroy said.

In this case, the procedure is to forward an email to all other Board members. Forwarding the email doesn’t indicate agreement with it; Bonenfant has as much right to express an opinion as any other Norwalk citizen, and could not attend the meeting because he had a Council meeting to attend, Conroy said.

Some would say you could pretend you didn’t see the email, but then there’s the possibility that someone would dredge up the email, he said.

Conroy said he’d spoken to several attorneys about his forwarding of Bonenfant’s email.

“None of them could not see a reason in the world that counsel would ask me to recuse myself,” Conroy said. ‘”… I think I am being eminently fair. For me to be wrong, for his email not to be treated like everyone else’s would mean Rich doesn’t have the ability to express himself.”

Firetree is going to “come up with 50,000 more things,” Conroy said.

“I think they’re already figuring that they’re going to court,” Conroy said. “Not that we are prejudging, they have decided that’s how it’s going to turn out. So, they are behaving that way and that’s unfortunate because I don’t know that that’s the outcome.”

He is trying to set up the continuation of the hearing on May 25, but is not certain he has enough Commissioners available, he said.

The five-member Board has three alternates. Conroy had Commissioner Lee Levey, an alternate, sit through part one of the public hearing to try to cover absences, but Lyon’s recusal gave him too many empty chairs, Conroy said, explaining that one member has been out of town.

A quorum would be three members but the goal is five members present, he said. Other alternates could catch up on the issue by listening to a recording of the first part of the public hearing.

Although the public can speak to the Board when the hearing resumes, the written comment period is closed, Conroy said, explaining that, “I didn’t, as chairman, extend that.”


3 responses to “ZBA chairman explains meeting cancellation”

  1. Debora Goldstein

    Thank you Nancy, and Mr. Conroy, for clarifying that the written comment period is now closed. It behooves the ZBA to now give attention to scheduling the “part 2” on a night that does not conflict with other important meetings or big community events, so that the public can participate in the hearing itself, since that is the only way to provide further input.

    I hope Mr. Conroy is aware that there is ALREADY a ZBA special meeting on May 25th for two other applications. Even if they are dispatched quickly, it is likely the public hearing will continue for hours, as these controversial ones often do. Perhaps it is better to choose a night in which there is no other business, to ensure that the proceedings have adequate time for everyone to participate.


    The Norwalk Zoning Board of Appeals Will hold a special meeting on
    Thursday May 25, 2017, 7:30pm

    On the following applications:
    17-0406-02 Shen Yanfang & Wu Junhao –
    17-0525-01 Little House LLC –

  2. Donna

    A lamentable error on Lyon’s part, especially given what we know about the applicant. No surprise Firetree also demanded Conroy’s recusal. The board is wise to prepare for a legal fight. Perhaps Lyons mistakenly imagined these were reasonable people and, the hand-writing already being on the wall regarding the decision of Ms. Rochefort to deny the C.O.to Firetree, Mr. Lyons simply agreed with her reasoning.

    Since Mr. Conroy believes, rightly, that this applicant already has a mind towards litigation, perhaps Mr. McCann and the zoning commissioners should begin making inquiries with potential litigators to make sure Firetree doesn’t get to them first and eliminate them as resources. I suggest the Quintard neighbors also pass the hat and hire counsel. Be prepared for the long fight. Even if the BOP pulls the plug on this contract (which they should), Firetree, the Ertel’s and William Brown appear to have a greater interest in protracted litigation than they do in reducing recidivism and enabling “persons associated with the criminal justice system” to reenter society successfully. Also they don’t care if we hate them.

    Nancy, I have a question for Mr. Conroy. How does the ZBA view testimony from an applicant that is either outright false or misleading? Firetree lied and misled the board regarding their impact on Harrisburg. They represented that townhouses across the street from Firetree Capitol Pavilion were built as a result of Firetree’s positive impact on the neighborhood. In truth, that was a blighted neighborhood. The Harrisburg RDA was asked by HUD to seek developers to build low-income housing, and Governor’s Square was part of that process. The developer was Landex. A high ranking official in Harrisburg said, “those townhouses weren’t built because of Firetree. They were built IN SPITE of Firetree.”

  3. Donna

    Hopefully, the ZBA will post information as soon as possible regarding the rescheduled date for part 2 of Firetree’s 2 pronged application. Thank you, Deborah Goldstein, for pointing out the need to avoid potential conflicts with other upcoming meetings. Thursday the 25th, in addition to having an already packed agenda, also precedes a three day weekend. The community was prepared to appear in large numbers on the 18th. We have had the wind taken out of our sails. And the ZBA should grant us a reasonable opportunity to attend the makeup date.

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