The town hasn’t issued an RFP for legal services in a full decade, officials told NewCanaanite.com in response to a public information request. New Canaan issued for legal services in May 2012, according to Mimi Pitt, the project coordinator for the town who fields requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The last time RFPs were issued for internal and external auditing services were June 2016 and March 2012, respectively, Pitt said. The three RFP issuances all date to the administration of former First Selectman Rob Mallozzi. The current first selectman, Kevin Moynihan, was elected in 2017.
The town exceeded its budget for legal fees by 32% in the fiscal year that ended June 30, documents show. The total spent in legal fees—$395,947.42 against a budget of $300,000—does not include expenses incurred as part of the town’s purchase of an Elm Street building earlier this year, according to a legal bill approved July 26 by the Board of Selectmen. (Those fees, which the Board of Finance later “re-classified,” had already exceeded $43,000 by January, past bills show.)
During the Board’s meeting, Selectman Kathleen Corbet asked about the $8,000 monthly retainer that New Canaan pays to Berchem Moses PC, the town attorney’s firm. “Relative to the full amount of the budget, about 20%, is that similar to what other towns are?” Corbet asked during the meeting, held in Town Hall and via videoconference. “Is that typically what we should expect in terms of the overall budget, the retainer cost?”
Referring to Town Attorney Ira Bloom, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan responded, “I don’t know exactly what other towns pay but I’m told by Ira that we are in the ballpark.
A judge this month ruled against the town in its decision to uphold the issuance of a zoning permit for an interior renovation of a former residential dwelling at Grace Farms.
Neighbors of the Lukes Wood Road organization in July 2019 appealed the town zoning enforcement officer’s decision to issue the permit, saying, in part, that the Planning & Zoning Commission should have been consulted—or even designated as the deciding body—as to whether the work amounted to a disallowed, more intense use of the “Operations Center” at Grace Farms.
If so, that could amount to a violation of the organization’s existing special permit, according to neighbors David Markatos and Jennifer Holme, represented in the legal matter by attorney Amy Souchuns of Stamford-based Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff LLC. Yet the Zoning Board of Appeals—without specifying why—denied their appeal by a 4-1 vote at its November 2019 meeting, prompting the neighbors to sue the ZBA the same month. On May 10, after about 18 months of litigation, Judge Marshall Berger of the state Superior Court in Hartford ruled against the ZBA (and Grace Farms Foundation, which joined the suit as a defendant after filing a motion to intervene in January 2020). In a 15-page decision that is at times strongly worded, Berger noted that the ZBA’s role “was limited and it was up to the [Planning & Zoning] commission to decide if the construction constituted a violation” (his italics). “Under that reasoning, after all the time the board devoted to this issue and the time and expense of this appeal, should this court dismiss the appeal, the [P&Z] commission might thereafter decide that the construction did indeed constitute a violation of the special permit thereby promoting a new enforcement action.
A lawsuit filed against the town last year by the owner of an 8,700-square-foot commercial building on Elm Street is headed toward trial, court documents show. A remote pretrial conference is scheduled for Dec. 3 in the matter of the property owner’s appeal of the town’s decision to preserve its assessment of 111 Elm St. In an October 2018 revaluation, the town assessed the two-story structure at $3,063,480, a figure that is “grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful,” according to a lawsuit filed April 18, 2019 by attorneys Gary Klein and Liam Burke of Stamford-based Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey LLP.
The property owner, a Bristol-based limited liability company whose principal lives in Palm Beach, Fla., sought relief from the New Canaan Board of Assessment Appeals but that appointed body made no changes, “thereby denying the relief the Applicant requested,” according to the complaint. “The applicant is aggrieved by the decision,” it said.
A lawsuit filed by the owner of an Elm Street commercial property claiming the town overestimated its value in a recent tax assessment is slated to go to trial this summer. The town in January denied claims made on behalf of the owner of 61 Elm St. that an October 2018 evaluation—later upheld by the Board of Assessment Appeals—was “grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful.”
According to tax records, the two-story building at the intersection of South Avenue has 14,438 total square feet of finished space, and sits on .18 acres. It was assessed at $3,595,970, according to as substitute appeal filed last September in state Superior Court.
The Board of Assessment Appeals denied the plaintiff’s appeal, according to a complaint filed by attorney Frank Murphy of Norwalk-based Tierney, Zullo, Flaherty & Murphy PC.
The matter is scheduled to go to trial in July, according to Connecticut Judicial Branch records. The town in a March 2 legal filing said it would use Bridgeport-based real estate appraiser Peter Vimini as an expert witness.
“The expert opinions to which Mr. Vimini is expected to testify will be contained in his written appraisal report as of October 1, 2018, which he has not yet completed but which will be disclosed to the plaintiff prior to trail pursuant to the court’s deadline for the mutual exchange of appraisals,” Coppola said in the disclosure.