The town plans to tap a Bridgeport-based attorney with wide experience and expertise in land use to advise municipal officials on a closely followed appeal regarding the “sober house” operating on West Road.
Patricia Sullivan of Cohen and Wolf is “a very good lawyer with issues related to zoning,” according to First Selectman Rob Mallozzi.
“She is a very good land use lawyer and is familiar with the limitations of zoning with respect to federal and state law,” he said.
Selected from among a number of candidates and with vetting and feedback from attorneys who serve on the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals, Sullivan is expected to advise on whether the town’s determination that the sober house may operate without a permit is a legally correct, tenable position.
Opponents of the sober house’s “as-of-right” operation on upper West Road—including the appellant, next-door neighbor Thom Harrow—have said New Canaan should have a formal application process for such businesses seeking to launch in residential zones. A “reasonable accommodation” on New Canaan’s part does not compel the town to allow sober houses such as the one operated by The Lighthouse at 909 West Road to do business without obtaining a special or health permit (as the town’s zoning regulations otherwise would require).
Those who have found that The Lighthouse may operate there without a permit point to federal laws that govern treatment of the disabled and fair housing practices.
That has been the consistent advice of Town Attorney Ira Bloom. Yet following an emotionally charged public hearing of Harrow’s appeal earlier this month, the ZBA decided to seek additional legal counsel.
The Board of Selectmen at its regular meeting on Tuesday morning is scheduled to approve Sullivan’s appointment.
A graduate of Fordham University School of Law, Sullivan is a principal and co-chair of Cohen and Wolf’s “Land Use Group,” according to the firm’s website. She was appointed as town attorney for Weston in 2009, and has served as an associate town attorney there as well as in Wilton and Ridgefield, and as assistant town attorney in Westport.
“Ms. Sullivan also represents the land use boards in the Town of Orange,” the website said. “She has tried more than fifty land use cases to judgment and appears regularly before Connecticut’s Appellate Courts.”
It isn’t clear how many sober house cases Sullivan has dealt with specifically—she could not immediately be reached for comment.
The ZBA is to reconvene on the municipal appeal at its regular meeting on April 3. That process is playing out while a separate lawsuit filed by Harrow unfolds in civil court—in it, he is seeking a temporary injunction to halt The Lighthouse’s operation.