The development partners behind the Allen-O’Neill renovation have accused one Darien Housing Authority commissioner of attempting to undermine the project as per a letter from a Westport attorney.
The redevelopment, which would double the developments’ homes in density and received approval for $2.47 million of 9% low income tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority last year, kicked off in March.
The plan will double the current 53 single-family home units to 106 units. Some neighbors who still object to the plan attended last week’s Housing Authority meeting and asked questions and voiced concerns to the commissioners and developer John McClutchy, who answered questions and provided explanations.
Last year’s appointment of long-time vocal redevelopment critic and neighbor Jan Pierret to the Housing Authority by the Board of Selectmen drew some opposition from the commissioners at the time.
At the meeting, before Pierret was appointed, former Darien Housing Authority Chairman Jenny Schwartz cited various organized attempts by Pierret to stop the project, and said she did not have the required experience to serve.
Pierret said at the time her interest as a project neighbor gave her the motivation to see it through and make sure it runs smoothly.
However, in a letter from Westport attorney David Greenberg to town counsel Ed Schmidt, Greenberg outlines various examples of Pierret’s obstructive behavior as observed by McClutchy and development partner Arthur Anderson.
One example was that despite her voiced commitment to the project on the night of her appointment, Pierret has continued to voice opposition to it and wore a white armband at the recent groundbreaking ceremony to signify her protest, as per her own statements to attendees, according to Greenberg. Pierret told The Times she wore the arm band as a sign of solidarity with the neighbors, and not in protest of the project.
Other examples include meetings Pierret has held with current tenants, public officials and neighbors without the consent or knowledge of the developers behind the project, and has subsequently refused to provide information from those meetings.
At the most recent Darien Housing Authority meeting, Pierret said she considered herself a neighbor representative on the Housing Authority and said she was looking out for the best interest of the neighborhood.
Greenberg continues to say, “to make matters worse, Ms. Pierret’s activities must be attributed to the Housing Authority (and perhaps even the town of Darien) by reason of her continuing service as a commissioner of the Housing Authority; after all, she is an agent of the Housing Authority, purportedly acting with apparent authority.”
“As a result, Ms. Pierret’s actions potentially create a breach by the Housing Authority of its obligations under the development agreement,” Greenberg wrote.
“To the extent that any misinformation has been disseminated by Ms. Pierret, we may even be talking about tortious interference,” he wrote.
Greenberg added that the matter is no longer between the Housing Authority and developers.
“Millions of dollars have been invested in this project by private investors and large financial institutions, in reliance upon the expectations that the Housing Authority and the town of Darien will abide by their contractual obligations in completing this project,” he wrote.
Greenberg advised Schmidt to speak with the town and take all necessary steps to bring an “immediate end” to “Ms. Pierret’s continuing efforts to undermine the project and create discord in the community over the project.”
During the most recent Housing Authority meeting, commissioner Jan Raymond told Pierret she can’t wear both hats of a commissioner and a neighbor.
Pierret told The Darien Times she was “disappointed” with how the situation was handled and said she would have preferred the developers had addressed their concerns with her directly.
“I have not opposed the project during my tenure at the DHA and do not believe I have done anything that has obstructed the progress of the redevelopment,” she said in a statement Tuesday.
“I have only acted on behalf of the neighbors’ to address their concerns and requests so that we can create a redevelopment that neighbors can feel more comfortable with,” she said, citing concerns about the size of buildings and neighbors’ privacy.
Pierret said she knew McClutchy would do a “phenomenal job” and called him a talented developer.
She also said Anderson has “done a remarkable job assisting residents with their questions and concerns.”
“I have always maintained the desire to work collaboratively with the DHA and redevelopment team,” she said. “I look forward to a positive and pleasant relationship going forward and I hope for open communications between us and the community.”
Raymond declined comment on the letter. McClutchy also declined comment, saying the letter speaks for itself. Wayne Fox, another the other Darien town counsel, did not respond to a request for comment.