Correction, 2:49 a.m., May 1: Mushak is a licensed landscape architect, not a landscaper.
NORWALK, Conn. – A zoning complaint against a Norwalk zoning commissioner, which touched off a heated online exchange between the involved parties, has been resolved by moving a flower pot, Deputy Zoning Inspector Vladimir Mariano said.
“There was a planter that had to be placed within the driveway at a certain place, that wasn’t there,” Mariano said Tuesday.
Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo shared the news Friday: a cease and desist order had been issued on the home owned by Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak and David Westmoreland. Santo said it was part of a pattern of lawlessness by Mushak.
“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.”
Mushak said the order was part of a pattern of harassment, that he and Westmoreland hadn’t received the order yet, that it was funny the press found out about it first. Mushak produced a 2008 letter from Zoning Inspector Aline Rocherfort approving the property’s driveway arrangement.
Westmoreland said he retrieved the certified letter Saturday, and Monday went into the Planning and Zoning Office to look at the plan and see how they were in violation. He was relieved to see that it was just about a flower pot, he said.
The location of the flower pot is indicated in red ink on the site plan made in 2008 by Zoning Compliance Officer Adam Carsen.
Although Santo said Friday that Mushak was supposed to keep a boulder in the front setback, the anonymous complaint refers to a planter.
“The approved walkway indicates there should be a planter, which has obviously been moved to allow parking,” the complaint, which was filed on April 15, says.
The complaint also includes photographs of a car parked in front of the house, in the gravel area that is supposed to be blocked by the flower pot.
“I am concerned that the driveway is not a legitimate drive and that they are using gravel instead of the approved ‘asphalt’ so they can get away with parking in the designated walk way,” the complaint says. “…The excessive front yard parking has become a real eyesore.”
Mushak and Westmoreland said Tuesday that they didn’t have a copy of the site plan made by Carsen. When Carsen inspected the property, “He said, ‘Oh by the way, why don’t you put a pot there,’” Westmoreland said.
“We thought it was an off the cuff remark,” Mushak said.
“It kept blowing over in all the storms and finally in Hurricane Irene it blew over and it was just damaged. And I just moved it away,” Westmoreland said.
Mushak said he must have parked his car in the front for 20 minutes. He doesn’t park it there routinely, he said.
The couple have a two-car garage behind the house, which allows them to have a wider driveway, they said.
“We work in every other town – Darien, Westport, Greenwich – nobody has rules like Norwalk does. Nobody. You can’t have a circular drive in Norwalk,” said Mushak, a licensed landscape architect.
People in Rowayton would love to have an entry court, but Norwalk zoning laws don’t allow it, he said. In his case, the law makes for an unsafe situation, as people must back into the street to exit, he said.
“The regulation is ridiculous. The staff spends more time being nasty going after people for something that is allowed in every other town. … It’s a dumb rule that no other town has,” he said.
The 2008 letter from Rocherfort doesn’t mention parking.
“She didn’t have to because you can’t have an existing zoning violation if you want a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) on another project even if it’s on the backside of the house. That is exactly what happened. They came out and inspected,” Mushak said.
Mushak said Santo and other zoning commissioners are guilty of zoning violations. He produced a photo from Google Earth showing trash bags in front of Santo’s house.
Santo did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson has a parking spot next to her house that is three inches short of being legal, Mushak said. Because she has that spot next to her house, it is legally acceptable for her to park in the setback, he said. But the spot is illegal, he said.
Someone would have to file a complaint on that for anything to be done, he said.
Mushak said he thought Norwalk zoning regulations are designed to keep people from paving their front yards to create parking.
A better alternative would be to restrict parking to 30 percent of the front yard.
“It would be a logical rule, instead of forcing people doing these crazy, crazy things,” he said. “They’ve had people park on top of their propane tanks. Literally, on top of their propane tanks on the side of their house, they can’t go anywhere else on the property on these tight properties. The zoning staff has said ‘I’m sorry, you have to park on top of a propane tank,’ which is really unbelievable. The zoning staff has said ‘I’m sorry, you can’t park on the front yard setback.’ So the whole rule is dumb. But anyway, we did exactly what they said.”
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