AP NEWS

Building and Land Technology sues city Reps

April 2, 2019

STAMFORD — The city’s biggest developer, Building and Land Technology, has sued the city Board of Representatives, making it the second builder to do so in the last year.

The civil lawsuit, filed late last month, comes after threats it would be coming and centers on what BLT calls an illegal petition effort that the Board of Representatives allowed, later using the petition to reject a measure that would allow denser housing on a South End lot.

Early this year, the Planning Board approved of changes to the city’s Master Plan — the city’s governing planning document — that would allow BLT to put up more than 650 units on a South End block between Woodland Avenue and Walter Wheeler Drive — the longtime location of trash hauler B&S Carting.

The approval caused consternation among nearby residents and the South End’s Neighborhood Revitalization Zone who decried BLT’s slow march into their neighborhood and plans for denser, taller buildings. Half of the lot falls in the South End Historic District, 177 acres of the neighborhood recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

The NRZ then mounted an appeal effort — technically appealing two decisions because BLT requested one change while city planners requested a companion one.

NRZ members have long called for the city to halt BLT’s entry into the historic district, where it has assembled this block and another to the north, at Henry and Garden streets.

The petition, and the board’s approval process, is what BLT is now litigating.

“The Board of Representatives erred by ‘accepting’ the invalid petition which the Board otherwise did not have jurisdiction to consider, because it did not satisfy the requirements” of the city Charter, wrote John Cannavino, BLT’s attorney, in a civil complaint. .

In a statement, BLT Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone lamented what he called a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“The Board’s acceptance and consideration of the petition clearly violate the City’s Charter. Because of the Board’s illegal action, BLT is now forced to seek a legal remedy, and the Board will now waste taxpayer money defending a lawsuit over what should have been a straightforward decision,” Ferrarone said.

For a petition to be valid, the Charter says it must contain “twenty (20) percent or more of the owners of the privately-owned land in the area included in any proposed amendment to the Master Plan, or the owners of twenty (20) percent or more of the privately-owned land located within five hundred (500) feet of the borders of such area.”

BLT argues that the NRZ and its vice president, Sue Halpern, did not meet that threshold, but the board verified the petition anyway, saying the group garnered enough signatures.

Halpern and the NRZ argue the petition had enough signatures.

Several Board of Representatives agreed with the group, and voted in their favor on both the BLT-brought change and the city’s companion piece.

During the petition process the city Law Department issued a memo supporting BLT’s claim that the petition did not have enough signatures.

It is unclear whether the office will now defend the board in court. No defense attorney is yet listed on the case, according to the judicial website.

Corporation Counsel Kathryn Emmett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is the second time in a year that representatives have challenged zoning decisions on behalf of residents seeking to limit development in their neighborhoods, only to be sued by the developer seeking the change.

The first case, in which developer George Comfort & Sons sought to build a Life Time Fitness center in High Ridge Office Park, which is surrounded by single-family homes, is now before a judge in state Superior Court in Hartford.

George Comfort & Sons also claims representatives accepted an “invalid protest petition” from residents.

In that case, the board is defended by outside counsel because Corporation Counsel sided with George Comfort during the appeal process.

Cannavino’s firm, Cummings & Lockwood, is representing George Comfort & Sons in that case.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton