Westport residents challenge Hiawatha Lane project in court

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WESTPORT — Nearly a year ago, the city settled a case with a developer who had been trying to get a housing project built on Hiawatha Lane Extension for 18 years.

Previously, the city worked alongside the neighborhood against this development for nearly two decades, but now a group of landlords have taken matters into their own hands after the settlement. Three owners have filed a civil lawsuit seeking an injunction against the project, owned by Summit Saugatuck LLC.

The settlement between the city and the developer eliminated one of the five proposed buildings on the property, reducing the total number of units from 187 to 157, and added three-bedroom units to the project. The city also won to maintain its moratorium on project applications filed under 8-30g, a state law that allows developers to circumvent local zoning laws in the event that 30% or more of its housing stock is considered affordable housing.

The owners filed a complaint in September 2021 and are awaiting a decision from Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger on whether the case will go to trial or end in a summary disposition — a court ruling without a full trial.

The judge said he should go back to his room to think about it, according to Hiawatha Lane resident Carolanne Curry. That was almost 90 days ago. The judge has 120 days to make a decision, according to attorney Joel Green, who represents the owners.

“It’s in the hands of a judge for a decision,” said attorney Timothy Hollister, who represents the developer.

The homeowners’ case centers on the single-family deed restrictions that were established when the homes were first handed over to occupants nearly 70 years ago.

“We are of the view that all lots are subject to a restriction that limits development to single-family homes,” Green said. “We believe the evidence that all acts and history show that all acts included this restriction.”

Summit argues that the deed restrictions do not constitute a “uniform common plan” that can prevent them from developing a multi-family housing project. They cite that nine of the 16 deeded lots were not subject to a single-family housing restriction following a 1956 Westport probate court ruling, according to court documents.

Green said he looks forward to the decision.

“We’ve been patient for many years, so that doesn’t bother me,” Curry said.

The city’s settlement with the developer also included stipulations for fire safety and does not allow Summit to submit future 8-30g applications on site.

Green said he doesn’t believe this case will set a “broader” precedent for other 8-30g cases as it stands, as this case largely rests on a “particular subdivision” that is unique to this case.

Commissioners raised concerns about the additional traffic the project would create at the May 2021 meeting. There have been city-wide traffic issues in recent months, leading to a list of 10 traffic meetings, one in each of the city’s districts.

mike.mavredakis@hearstmediact.com


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