EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.comEven by what we have come to know as Enfield standards, the infamous Yale Court subdivision took an extraordinary path to fruition.This case is perhaps emblematic of how some projects go through the approval process liked greased lightning, while others languish and still others are subjected to fierce litigation and harassment.One cannot cite Yale Court without mentioning several players including Enfield Mayor Patrick Tallarita. As Tallarita consolidated political power in recent years, his family got into the development business.
Tallarita’s wife, Jeannette, a nurse, formed a partnership called Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC. Her partner is M. Diane Frederick. M. Diane Frederick’s husband David Frederick is a major developer in the region. Diane and David Frederick confirmed the formation of this partnership.Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC developed a lot off Yale Court, behind the Enfield Montessori School. A map of the property among the Enfield land records states the following: “Not a buildable lot until required frontage is provided.“Despite this barrier to development and the apparent lack of any demonstrated legal hardship, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a frontage variance for not just one, but two lots, on July 25, 2005. The ZBA approved “a frontage variance of 43.1 ft. (106.9 ft. proposed Lot A, 150 ft. required) and a frontage variance of 11.7 ft. (138.3 ft. proposed Lot B, 150 ft. required) for a proposed subdivision of the subject parent lot,” according to Enfield land records.When we picked up these records the other day, a police officer appeared at the records office. Later, as we left, the officer was waiting in the parking lot.This welcome wagon greeting followed an incident Sept. 21 when we visited the land records office. On Sept. 21, 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.Construction of the two houses, meanwhile, has been ongoing at the Yale Court subdivision. The exteriors appear to be virtually complete and it appears one of the houses has been sold. Variances such as the one that allowed construction at Yale Court are not necessarily uncommon, according to a leading legal authority on zoning issues, Hartford attorney Joseph Hammer of Day Berry & Howard. Hammer was not told of the political overtones connected with this saga before he offered his expert opinion.“As a very general rule,” Hammer said, “the ZBA can give a variance for many of the requirements. Still, it seems some review could be done by town staff or Planning and Zoning. They could determine whether there is compliance related to various regulations such as sewer, water and grading.“We also spoke with another zoning expert, attorney Tim Hollister of Shipman & Goodwin. Like Hammer, Hollister was not told of the political forces at play in these matters.“If a parcel is labeled ‘Not a buildable until lot until required frontageis provided,’ ” Hollister said, “you have to change the lot, change the requirement or get a variance. The question is, was the legal hardship self-created? If that’s the case, then you lose and you don’t get the variance.” According to maps on file at Enfield Town Hall, a significant portion of the property appears to be wetlands. A utility easement granted by the Planning & Zoning Commission on March 8, 2006 apparently allows development of an area including wetlands. These actions are striking in that when a neighboring property owner benefited from a ZBA action, the Planning and & Zoning Commission sued the ZBA. That neighbor, the Enfield Montessori School, persuaded the ZBA to overturn an improper cease and desist order that threatened to shut down the parking lot and, in effect, the school.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 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. Are we watching a movie here along the lines of a current hit, The Illusionist, where, “Everything you see is a trick, it is not real?” Has the Tallarita-Frederick Combine performed the ultimate illusion, turning property with little or no frontage and an abundance of wetlands into homes and / or, potentially, condos?Stranger things have happened in town, including the crusade to shut down the Montessori driveway and school. Even now, Enfield taxpayers foot the bill for a case before the state Appellate Court. In that matter, the Enfield Historic District Commission stymied plans to move the Montessori parking area away from busy and unsafe Route 5 to a secure location away from the highway.Tallarita, an employee of the state Labor Department, is also treasurer for Democrat Joe Courtney’s congressional campaign against incumbent Republican Rob Simmons.Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. He also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.comJim Brewer, a former civil rights litigator, is a photojournalist and a contributing writer for The Justice Journal and Inquiring News. Brewer served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, commanding a military police unit at a nuclear weapons site in Germany, and as a prosecutor in New Jersey. Both writers are members of the Society of Professional Journalists.