This column appears on the http://www.cooljustice.blogspot.com web siteThis is a story of greed, political manipulation and the little school that got in the way.I have been following this story for more than two years. There are strong indications it will rise – or already has risen – to the level of political corruption.
Enfield, Connecticut, a town of about 45,000 residents, is south of Springfield and north of Hartford off Interstate Route 91. The median household income in 2000 was about $53,000. The median house value, which has increased significantly since that time, was about $125,000. Manufacturing trails education, health and social services combined slightly in providing employment. The town is about 90 percent white, with significant concentrations of Irish, Italian, French, Polish, German and English ancestry. The median age of residents in 2000 was 37.3 years.Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in Enfield, but they were able to regain power in 2003 only after a split between Republicans and conservatives including taxpayer groups. Democrats are led by Mayor Patrick Tallarita.Tallarita’s wife has entered into at least one development partnership. One project is very close to the Enfield Montessori School. Tallarita’s wife Jeannette is a nurse and is not known for real estate expertise.Jeannette Tallarita’s partner in the Yale Court subdivision now under construction behind the Montessori School is M. Diane Frederick of Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC. M. Diane Frederick’s husband David Frederick is a major developer in the region. Diane and David Frederick confirmed this partnership to my associate, Jim Brewer.Sources said David Frederick has expressed an interest in buying another parcel, of about seven acres, next to Yale Court and the Montessori School.The first major move by the Tallarita crew upon his ascent to mayor last year was to fire the town manager, Scott Shanley. Shanley had no trouble landing a job in Manchester.“The working theory, in the absence of any actual reasons provided by Mayor Tallarita or his party, is that the Democrats want to install someone more friendly to their plans,” according to a posting by Chris Bigelow of Enfield, a blogger who runs the Connecticut Local Politics site. There are seven Democrats and four Republicans on the Town Council.A malleable town manager might, for instance, go along with a recommendation not to replace the town’s wetlands officer. Such a recommendation is currently before the town manager, sources said. With the Planning and Zoning and Wetlands Commissions controlled by the Council, this vacuum would allow certain developments to proceed without significant review or opposition.The Golden Goose in this scenario is the 11-acre Montessori property, owned by the Felician Sisters. Acquisition of the Montessori land, along with Yale Court and the 7-acre adjacent property, would give a developer about 25 acres upon which scores of houses or a major condo complex could potentially be built. The combined properties could also allow for a right of way from Route 5 to a side street that already is densely populated. For the past three years, the town of Enfield has mounted a relentless legal campaign to shut down the Montessori School. At best, the case appears to be based on a false premise. At worst, the constant battering of the Felician Sisters by the town seems to be the result of a conspiracy to manufacture false evidence.When the sisters return from court, students ask them, “Are we still going to have a school?“The sisters have operated the school at 1370 Enfield Street in various incarnations since 1992. They currently save the town about $350,000 annually in education spending. The site has operated as a Montessori School since 1965. And, since 1965, parents have dropped off their children in the parking area in front of the school.At times this parking area would get muddy and cars would get stuck. In 1992, a parent dumped some gravel to alleviate the problem.Eleven years later, the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Anthony DiPace, would find this to be a major problem.Also around this time, as we began the new millennium, Anthony Troiano stepped out of the shadows. Troiano, who lives next door to the school, became one of its most vehement opponents. The developer and prominent businessman spoke publicly against plans to move the parking area away from the highway to the back of the school. He said “historic vegetation” would be destroyed. Yet, when Troiano developed the parcels that now house Enfield Federal Savings Bank and a health care center, it was OK to tear down an historic blacksmith shop. Others who tried to develop those parcels before him were unsuccessful.When Anthony Troiano talks, people jump. For most, he is the straw that stirs the drink.One exception is Sister Mary Anastasia, who has taught at Enfield Montessori for more than 38 years. Sister Anastasia told us she turned down Troiano’s offer to buy the 11-acre parcel.“He insisted that we have plenty of buildings across the street, and that we could solve all our problems by moving,” Sister Anastasia said.Troiano was not pleased by the refusal to sell.“He told us,” Sister Anastasia said, “we would run out of money before he does,” an apparent reference to ongoing legal battles.Mayor Tallarita said of his relationship with Troiano: “We’re just neighbors.“In his latest whopper, Tallarita told Sister Anastasia he couldn’t do anything, his hands were tied, related to the town’s war against the Montessori School.Zoning enforcement officer Wayne Bickley, meanwhile, confirmed he received the personal, if belated complaint about the Montessori parking area from P&Z Chairman DiPace, his superior.“We didn’t want to hurt the nuns,” DiPace told Jim Brewer, “but we gotta do what we gotta do.“And so the town issued a cease and desist order for parking at the school. No parking, no school. Last year, however, the Zoning Board of Appeals lifted the order. The ZBA noted the area had been used for parking for more than 40 years. Regulations passed after the school began operating do not apply.Planning and Zoning responded by suing the ZBA.Dipace also told Brewer that if the town loses its current Superior Court battle against the Felician Sisters and the ZBA, it will appeal. Judge Richard Rittenband is hearing the case.A small compilation of recent legal bills shows the town has spent more than $15,000 to harass the Montessori School. This does not cover preparation and actual costs for a hearing on Sept. 12.The town is paying upwards of $200 an hour for the zoning commission lawyers to misrepresent testimony by Sister Anastasia. For example, attorney Matthew Willis, of the firm Branse, Willis &Knapp wrote in a brief for the September hearing in Hartford Superior Court: “Even the Sisters themselves admitted that the Disputed Gravel Parking Lot was created in 1992.“This tripe gives lawyers a bad name. Will they take any case, now matter how frivolous or lacking in merit? Talk about living off the public trough…“There’s something deeper than a scrawny little parking lot,” Sister Anastasia said. “Out of a clear blue sky they say we have a newly-constructed parking lot. We wondered where it was.“Nothing was said about gravel for 10 years,” Sister Anastasia continued. “It’s stupid. You don’t see any gravel any more. It’s dirt.“We have met many nice people in Enfield recently. Some of them like our inquiries, some apparently don’t. We pressed DiPace about his involvement in the Montessori complaint. We didn’t get to talk with him about the smooth sailing and waivers his wife got from the zoning commission for a coffee shop proposal at 540 Enfield St. The waivers include about $2,000 in savings for not having to submit a site bond and an undetermined savings for not having to submit a survey. A zone change from residential to commercial passed unanimously. Someone paid a $90,000 down payment, and Enfield Federal Savings holds a $70,000 mortgage, according to town records. An estimated $20,000 has been allocated for site improvements. The shop will be called Adspresso Cafe.It was only indirectly, through the Enfield Police Department, that we b
ecame aware of DiPace’s feelings.Some time after leaving Town Hall Thursday, Sept. 21, my associate Jim Brewer was accosted by police officers from about four Enfield cruisers. They blocked his path and with no probable cause detained him illegally for approximately 30 minutes. They asked him if he knew how to get to Route 91, e.g., get out of town. As they focused on Jim, yelling at him and trying to intimidate him, they told a woman who was trying to report a fire to go away. Among the officers on the scene were a sergeant and a captain.Police stated, among other things, that Dipace had met with the chief and other officials and had filed a stalking complaint. There is no basis for such a complaint and Dipace should probably be arrested for filing a false complaint.No one ever told Jim not to call or visit. He took photographs only while on public property.Atty. Norm Pattis of Bethany put the town on notice that they violated the civil rights of a citizen and reporter and that they will be held accountable.“We are not yet prepared to bring an action against the town and / or its officers, but will do so without reservation should either of our clients be impeded once again in the exercise of their First Amendment rights,” Pattis wrote today to Chief Carl Sferrazza and Town Manager Matthew Coppler.