Town officials and lawyers met with representatives of AvalonBay Communities Wednesday afternoon to try and negotiate a settlement of the long-running legal battle over a proposed apartment complex on Cutspring Road.
Lawyers in the meeting, including AvalonBay lawyer Timothy Hollister, would not allow a reporter to attend on the grounds that the meeting was a "legal settlement conference."
No one from either side would discuss the details of the new plan the developer presented at the meeting.
Last month, the state Appellate Court ruled in favor of AvalonBay, which wants to build a 130-unit rental apartment complex on a 12-acre parcel on Cutspring Road just west of the Merritt Parkway highway overpass.
Town officials are considering appealing the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The two sides agreed to an extension of the appeal period until late September while they try to come to a compromise.
Representing the town at the meeting were lawyers for the Zoning Commission, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWWC) and the Town Council, which is an environmental intervenor in the case, plus the chairman of the zoning and wetlands boards and their town administrators.
Zoning Commission Chairman Chris Silhavey confirmed that AvalonBay presented a compromise plan, but would not discuss the details.
He said his commission and the IWWC would meet sometime between now and Labor Day in executive session to discuss it and then meet with their lawyers.
Kevin Kelly, who is also Stratford’s state senator, is the attorney for the Town Council. Timothy Bates is the attorney for the Zoning Commission. Brian Stone is the attorney for the IWWC.
The legal battle has gone on for a decade and cost Stratford taxpayers more than $500,000. It began when the Zoning Commission and IWWC both denied applications in 2000 and 2001 by AvalonBay for apartment complexes with 160 units and 146 units respectively.
The IWWC said the developments would cause environmental damage to Pumpkin Ground Brook and adjacent marshes. The Zoning Commission objected that the Merritt Parkway overpass had insufficient clearance to allow a Fire Department aerial ladder truck to pass through it, thus creating a safety hazard because AvalonBay wanted to construct five three-story buildings.
AvalonBay appealed the decisions, and gained significant leverage from the fact that it stated it would designate 25 percent of the apartments as "affordable housing" under state law.
Because Stratford had less than 10 percent of its housing units that met the state’s definition of "affordable housing," the burden of proof was on the town, not on the developer.
In 2002, the Town Council filed for separate "environmental intervenor" status in the lawsuits, which allowed the town to present additional environmental testimony to support its case.
In 2008, AvalonBay submitted new applications for a 130-unit apartment complex, but that was also denied by the two boards. When the Appellate Court ruled against the town, it effectively ordered the town to approve the 130-unit plan.
Do you think town officials should continue to fight against AvalonBay or cut their losses and agree to a settlement? Tell us in the comments section below.