An attorney for a developer seeking to build at least two multifamily projects in New Canaan under the state’s affordable housing law is calling out the town’s highest elected official for inaccurate statements made during a recent public meeting.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan told members of New Canaan’s legislative body last month that “it came as a great surprise” in May that “the rules had changed” with respect to how the state counts affordable units in towns that are seeking to apply for relief from a law widely known by its statute number, 8-30g.
Yet “[t]he -30g moratorium rules with regard to deductions of points for units that have been demolished (a requirement overlooked in the Town’s recent application) did not ‘change recently,’ ” attorney Tim Hollister noted in a July 6 letter sent to Moynihan via an email to town employee Tucker Murphy, as well as to the full Town Council.
“The rules were adopted by the General Assembly in 2000, in Public Act 00- 206,” Hollister noted. “The rules have not changed since then. The Department of Housing enforced these rules in 2019 with respect to Westport’s moratorium application, but DOH did not change the rules.”
The letter, obtained by NewCanaanite.com which made a public records request for it, was sent to town officials in response to several representations that Moynihan made before the Town Council during its June 15 meeting. There, Moynihan took aim at Hollister—as he had the prior week during a Board of Selectman meeting—describing him as a lawyer who four years ago represented the New Canaan Housing Authority in its plan for rebuilding Canaan Parish at greater density in order to qualify for a four-year moratorium from the state law, then turning around and poking holes in New Canaan’s application, ultimately causing a further delay.
Here’s a look at some of what Moynihan said during the Town Council meeting, and how Hollister responded in his letter.
New Canaan’s moratorium “strategy”
Moynihan: “The attorney on the [Canaan Parish rebuilding] project was attorney Tim Hollister who was representing our Housing Authority, and the year following that plan Mr. Hollister appealed Westport’s moratorium and established a rule that demolished units should be deducted … Again, that was presented as a plan with the endorsement if not the authoring by attorney Tim Hollister.”
Hollister: “In 2018, I briefly represented the New Canaan Housing Authority in its application to the PZC for zoning approval of new units at Canaan Parish. My assigned task was to obtain zoning approval for the units … The units were approved by the PZC, and my role ended. I have had no role in the Town of New Canaan’s drafting or filing of any § 8-30g moratorium, and I have not acted as the ‘architect’ of the Town’s ‘strategy’ for a moratorium. My understanding is that the law firm of Berchem & Moses has been the Town’s legal counsel with respect to its moratorium applications.”
Westport called “racist”
Moynihan: “Mr. Hollister went on to call the town of Westport ‘racist.’ ”
Hollister: “I did not accuse the Town of Westport of being racist. The public record regarding the May 2019 article in Pro Publica is clear on this point. Elected officials in Westport attempted in 2019 to distort what was said, because they wanted to terminate my representation of § 8-30g applicant Summit Saugatuck, but they did not succeed. I remained, and remain Summit’s counsel, and its development is presently under construction.”
Moynihan: “The first selectman of Westport went to the Board of Education and said, ‘You have to fire this law firm, Shipman and Goodwin,’ and instead Mr. Hollister was fired by that law firm.”
Hollister: “Shipman & Goodwin did not fire me. I left in 2021 of my own volition, due to that firm’s increase, especially during 2020, of its representation of Connecticut municipalities in public finance, and labor and employment matters, which (like the board of education’s work) created a conflict for my land development work. Such things sometimes happen in the legal business. When I left in 2021, Shipman & Goodwin gave me a nice party, and I maintain cordial, professional and personal relationships with the lawyers and staff at that firm.”
It’s unclear whether Moynihan believed the representations he made to the Town Council. When some councilmen at the meeting suggested that the town seek a new lawyer with respect to the moratorium application, Moynihan brushed the idea aside, saying that the town shouldn’t try to force the state to change its position through litigation.
Towns like New Canaan, where less than 10% of all housing stock qualifies as “affordable” under the state’s definition, are susceptible to the 8-30g law. Under it, developers can use an appeal process to effectively skirt local zoning regulations when applying for multi-family housing project where at least 30% of all units are rented at affordable rates. The town has received two such applications from local developer Arnold Karp, at Weed and Elm Streets, and on Main Street.
The town had qualified for a four-year moratorium from the law in 2017, with the denser redevelopment of New Canaan Housing Authority-owned apartments Millport Avenue, and hoped to qualify for another through the redevelopment of the Canaan Parish complex at Lakeview Avenue and Route 123, which was partially completed last October.
Hollister has already out-maneuvered the town’s attorneys and Moynihan, himself a retired lawyer, with respect to the town’s application for a moratorium from 8-30g. Though Murphy had asserted in April that New Canaan would file its application for a moratorium that same month, Hollister during a public comment period on the application said the town’s document was incomplete and would not be approved. Moynihan later conceded that the town wouldn’t file its application until the second phase of Canaan Parish—building a 40-unit structure and obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy for it—is completed. That part of the project won’t be finished until at least November, Moynihan has said.
Moynihan has been accused of making misrepresentations several times during his three terms as first selectman, most recently by an appointed town body with respect to an ethics investigation.