Updated 8:15 p.m. Saturday, April 26, with attached copy of Michael Mushak’s Letter of Zoning Compliance from the Zoning Commission.
NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk zoning commissioner who has been issued a cease and desist order by the Planning and Zoning Department is calling the order an act of harassment.
Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak learned from this reporter that the Elmwood Avenue property he co-owns with David Westmoreland was being cited. The order, attached below, indicates that it was sent Wednesday by certified mail. Mushak said Friday that he and Westmoreland had received the certified letter notice, but had not yet gone to retrieve the mail.
“Before we even got the notice somebody was orchestrating a press barrage,” he said on Friday evening. “I have been subjected to a pattern of harassment by Joe Santo on the Zoning Commission and this fits into that pattern. This is how whistleblowers get treated in Norwalk. The same way Laurel Lindstrom was treated, and a whole bunch of people who tried to fix things in Norwalk. The abuse of power is frightening.”
“I know the violation went out yesterday,” Santo, Zoning Commission chairman, said Friday afternoon. “He should have it by now.”
Santo provided the copy of the order to NancyOnNorwalk.
Santo said Mushak should resign.
“This is a sitting zoning commissioner that should know better,” he said.
Mushak and Westmoreland are in violation of section 118-1220J of the Norwalk building zone regulations, according to the order, for having a parking space within the front setback. They are ordered to cease parking in the front setback and bring the property into compliance with zoning approval granted Nov. 29, 2007, or face penalties.
Santo said the complaint was filed by a neighbor of Mushak’s in retaliation for a blight complaint filed by Mushak.
Mushak said he hasn’t filed a complaint against anyone.
Golden Hill Association President Jim DelGreco mentioned a blighted Elmwood Avenue property last week in reference to enforcement of the new blight ordinance. The comment appeared in a story on this website.
Mushak said Friday the house is abandoned.
“That owner is never there. This is a smokescreen,” he said.
Mushak said he and Westmoreland have a 2008 letter from Zoning Inspector Aline Rocherfort approving the property’s driveway arrangement. Zoning Compliance Officer Adam Carsen came to the property and studied the situation, he said. His recommendations were followed, Mushak said.
Click here to see a copy of the letter: 2008 09 09 Zoning Signoff
The order is signed by Deputy Zoning Inspector Vladimir Mariano.
Mushak’s second term on the Zoning Commission ends July 1. He would need votes from a two-thirds majority on the council to be reappointed.
“He probably won’t be reappointed,” Santo said. “I think maybe perhaps he should resign now, save everybody a lot of aggravation. He’s just lost all of his credibility. Nobody wants to listen to him anymore and listen to his diatribes.”
Mayor Harry Rilling said Friday afternoon that he did not know about a cease and desist order. His follow-up email about Santo’s comment: “Inappropriate comments for a commissioner to make about another commissioner.”
“(Santo’s) bullying including ending meetings illegally without proper votes and ignoring the master plan and numerous studies,” Mushak said. “I think it’s Joe Santo who needs to resign so the city can move on with its business. This is petty retaliation, using city staff to retaliate.”
The April 10 Zoning Committee meeting ended with an argument, as Mushak tried to get Santo to put something on the agenda. NancyOnNorwalk was not there, but recently listened to the recording made by the city. It is attached below.
The argument began with Emily Wilson making a motion to adjourn. Mushak called a point of order, and Santo said, “We’re adjourned.”
Nate Sumpter agreed with Mushak that the meeting was not adjourned, and mentioned people walking out the door. Later, Sumpter said, “I mean, how rude. Let’s just talk about this. You mean you’ve got three folks that want something on the agenda and you just walk out of the room?”
It’s obvious on the recording that Santo and other Republican members were gone at that point.
The recording continues with voices fading, and then someone walking down the hall with the recorder in their pocket.
Mushak said the recorder wasn’t shut off because there was no vote to end the meeting. Santo, Wilson, Linda Kruk and Jim White walked out, he said.
“We were adjourned,” Santo said. “(The item) will probably be on the agenda for the May meeting, which I told him I would do from the beginning. He wanted it on the agenda because he wanted it on the agenda.”
Santo said Mushak has a “history of doing illegal things.”
“Two times in the past he had his vehicle parked at St. Paul’s (Church),” Santo said. “He was claiming they were legal. St. Paul’s can’t have contractors on their property. He was told to move them, he moved them once then put them back. Most recently, he apologized to Andy Glazer for slander. He apologized in public.”
Mushak also met with neighbors’ of the proposed Lowe’s illegally and had to recuse himself from participation on that issue, Santo said. Mushak has been writing comments about the Al Madany Islamic Center, in violation of a judge’s order, Santo said.
Mushak addressed the allegations point by point:
- He declined to comment about the mosque. A Feb. 27 comment on this site concerns a flier about the issue put out by Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) before the election. On Feb. 26 he mentioned the mosque in reference to zoning regulations.
- Mushak said he promised a neighborhood group that there would be crosswalks put on Stuart Avenue as part of the Lowe’s project. Staff was not responding to his requests to include the crosswalks. He said he requested a meeting in the mayor’s office with then-Mayor Richard Moccia and state Rep. Larry Cafero (R-137) who represented Lowe’s. Cafero asked him to recuse himself and he did.
- Trucks were parked at St. Paul’s for 10 years before he began parking his Tulip Tree Design trucks there, he said. He was volunteering for the church and using the trucks, he said. He also paid a fee to support the church, he said. “As soon as I started given Joe Santo a hard time for him not following the bylaws, a complaint shows up against our church,” he said. The complaint was anonymous, and was written in “chicken scratch,” he said. Many churches in South Norwalk have trucks parked there and no one bothers them, he said. The trucks at St. Paul’s were not visible from the road, he said.
“They’re after me. They don’t like me. They’re using the city code to come after me,” he said. “As far as we know we have no violation (on Elmwood Avenue) and we had no violation at the church. It’s very curious that the press got to see the cease and desist before we did, which indicates and organized effort to smear my reputation.”
Mushak said Santo refused to hold a public hearing regarding Glazer’s property on Rowayton Avenue, even though there was a letter from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) seeking mitigation because the proposed project was removing a water-dependent use. Staff was ignoring the letter, he said. Mushak speculated in a comment on this website about the connection between Glazer’s donation to the campaign to re-elect former Mayor Richard Moccia.
“I made a rush to judgment and I apologized,” Mushak said.
It was “really shocking for a zoning chair to just ignore regulations,” Mushak said.
“My highlighting these infractions — there’s a pattern of corruption of process — it angered him,” Mushak said. “Also a pattern of corruption of process by staff, not answering questions and deliberate attempts to influence decisions by the commissioners. … They’re going to force me to get a lawyer and go to court over a gravel driveway.”