Darien couple accuses town of lying on appeal petition
Builders Chris and Margaret Stefanoni are alleging the town of Darien lied in its petition to appeal a court decision upholding an affordable housing application at the intersection of Leroy and West Ave.
In the petition filed by the town March 27, the town asserts the application filed by the Stefanonis for 16 units, five of which would be affordable units for persons 62 or older, would be approved if the building "would not be located within the 30-foot clear area of the intersection." The town denied the original application based on concerns the building would block line-of-sight at the intersection and would pose a safety hazard at the intersection.
However, State Judge Henry S. Cohn ruled the town did not supply adequate evidence supporting the safety concerns and overruled the town's rejection of the permit. In his ruling, Cohn said the dangers posed by the building did not outweigh the benefit of more affordable housing.
"Other than tables in the commission's briefs showing that the plaintiffs' project is more dense than other commission-approved structures in Darien, there is no evidence of the harm that will occur or why this harm outweighs the need for affordable housing," Cohn wrote. "Both the plaintiffs and the commission have recognized at the hearing the need for affordable housing at this location."
The petition also states the Stefanonis "obstinately refused" to reduce the size of the building which "might result in four, instead of five, affordable units."
However, Chris Stefanoni said he agreed to accommodate the town's requests but the town later reneged on the deal.
"To prevent affordable housing, the town has now turned to the audacious strategy of making false statements to the Appellate Court. What the town's filing to the Appellate Court should have said was that `the Stefanonis have obstinately bent over backwards to give the town what it said it wanted,'" the Stefanonis said in a statement. "Since 2009, I proposed several different options that made the building smaller, less tall, and that placed it much further away from the corner of Leroy and West avenues. However, the town is really not interested in solutions. Instead, they prefer to just delay the inevitable and incur substantial legal fees doing so. Negotiating with the town is totally pointless, and I much prefer letting the court decide these matters."
Currently, the town has spent about $350,000 defending lawsuits filed by the Stefanonis regarding affordable housing applications. Town Attorney Wayne Fox told the Darien News defending affordable housing lawsuits is difficult for municipalities because the burden of proof is on the town to prove it is making efforts to expand affordable housing. He noted the location of the Stefanonis building at Leroy and West Ave. is a location the town recognized as an appropriate place for affordable housing. However, he said it wouldn't be a good idea to just walk away from a lawsuit and let someone develop affordable housing on the land.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she hoped the town would be able to receive its second, and final, moratorium. She also hoped discussion would continue about making amendments to the 8-30g statute.
Judges at the State Appellate Court would have to agree to re-open the case before the town can appeal the previous ruling.
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