NEWS ON NAGI v. AHUJA APPEALS!
Nagi Struts His Stuff!
(on the dance floor and in court)
On Saturday, May 18th, Nagi brought the house down at Curtain Call’s Dancing with the Stars fund-raiser at the Palace Theatre. (That’s Nagi at the far right of the group photo.) Unfortunately, I missed this grand event (tickets were $125 each!), but Lou Ursone of StamfordPatch covered it very nicely in the article above. (I have to give Nagi credit—he must have some incredible dance moves!)
Speaking of clever moves: I just saw an update on the court’s website for Nagi’s appeal, so I drove right down to the law library—this time with exact change—to get the latest scoop for you. And, boy, is it a doozie!
Let’s start with a quick refresher: On 2/7/11, Nagi filed an appeal (above) of the Zoning Board’s rejection of his previous “Maple Ridge” application. That application, which was presented to the Zoning Board on 12/6/10, was for nine apartments and a day-care center for 120 children.
Then, while Nagi’s appeal was pending in court, he filed a second “Maple Ridge” application for 22 apartments and a day-care for 120 children. The Zoning Board held four public hearings on Nagi’s second application between 9/26/11 and 11/10/11, ultimately approving a scaled-down version (consisting of 17 condominiums and a day-care for 90 children) on 12/16/11.
On 12/29/11, Nagi’s neighbor across the street, Gurpreet Ahuja, filed an appeal of the Zoning Board’s approval of Nagi’s second “Maple Ridge” application. She based her appeal mainly on two issues: 1) that the Zoning Board’s failure to post notices for two of the four public hearings mentioned above violated Stamford’s city ordinance; and 2) the Zoning Board’s modification of the traffic pattern in Nagi’s application (by eliminating the driveway between Maplewood Place and Bradley Place) amounted to a “material change” that should have required a new application.
In addition to her appeal, Gurpreet also filed a motion to intervene (MTI) as a co-defendant with the City in Nagi’s previous “Maple Ridge” application. She apparently did this to prevent Nagi from making her appeal moot by settling his appeal of his previous application. (And, in fact, such a settlement was later thwarted by the existence of Gurpreet’s MTI.)
Gurpreet’s MTI in Nagi’s appeal was rejected by Judge Adams in Stamford Superior Court, so she appealed the judge’s rejection to Connecticut’s appellate court. The appellate court granted Gurpreet’s petition to appeal, and she is now waiting for this appeal to be heard. And this appeal (of the judge’s rejection of Gurpreet’s MTI) is now holding up Nagi’s appeal (of the City’s rejection of his previous “Maple Ridge” application).
So, on 3/8/12, one of Nagi’s attorneys, Brenden Leydon, filed an Objection to [Gupreet’s] Motion to Intervene. And, on 10/22/12, Attorney Leydon also filed an Objection to [Gurpreet's] Application to Appear and File Amicus Brief. In these objections, Attorney Leydon vehemently argued against Gurpreet’s MTI, in part because she had waited to file it until well over a year after Nagi’s appeal was filed. However (as mentioned above), Gurpreet filed her MTI to prevent Nagi from making an “end-run” around Gurpreet’s own appeal.
Note that, in his 10/22/12 objection, Attorney Leydon states that any appeal of a board’s failure to comply with an ordinance (such as the Zoning Board’s apparent failure to comply with Stamford’s ordinance requiring notices of additional public hearings) shall be taken not more than one year after such failure. He implies that Gurpreet waited more than a year after the Zoning Board’s failure to comply with the city’s notice requirements to file her MTI. But this is not true—Gurpreet filed her appeal on 12/29/11 and her MTI on 2/22/12, and the public hearings in question occurred on 9/26/11, 10/6/11, 10/24/11, and 11/10/11. Here, Attorney Leydon seems to have confused Nagi’s appeal with Gurpreet’s appeal. (And who can blame him?)
But now for the “doozie:” in a complete reversal of his previous position, Attorney Leydon withdrew his objection on 5/23/13 and has now asked the court (via a Motion to Implead) to ALLOW Gurpreet to intervene in Nagi’s appeal!
Attorney Leydon’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Implead basically states that Gurpreet should be allowed to intervene immediately so that Nagi’s appeal can go to trial on 6/19/13, as scheduled. And, in the event that the court does NOT grant Gurpreet’s MTI, Attorney Leydon has also filed a Motion to Proceed with Trial Regardless of Nonparty Appeal. (Here Attorney Leydon basically argues that Gurpreet’s MTI appeal of Nagi’s appeal should not delay Nagi’s trial.)
As an aside, note that, although Attorney Leydon’s motions are dated 5/25/13, the court’s website shows that they were filed on 5/23/13. (I guess that he’s looking forward to the holiday weekend as much as we are!)
If the court grants Attorney Leydon’s motions, then the trial for Nagi’s appeal will take place less than a month from now—in Hartford, the home turf of Nagi’s other attorney (and brother-in-law), Eliot Gersten. And, if I am correct about the Gersten family’s influence in Hartford’s legal inner-circles, this trial could prove to be a “slam-dunk” for Nagi. (Apparently Nagi’s brilliant moves are not limited to the dance floor….)
(Next: Why Nagi WON’T be “strutting his stuff” in Dr. Ahuja’s appeal.)
Nagi's in the (Borrowed) Money Again!
As you know, I have been checking the Town Clerk’s office for the fate of Nagi’s $3.1 million in loans from People’s Bank ($1.4M) and CBT/Berkshire Bank ($1.7M). As you can see from the latest loan documents on file, the People’s loan was due on May 1, 2012, and the CBT/Berkshire loan was due on December 31, 2012. If these loans are paid off, this fact should have been recorded with the Town Clerk. But it hasn’t, at least not yet.
I had previously been searching only for info related to Nagi’s “Procurement LLC,” so I finally decided to perform a more careful search of Nagi’s personal loans and mortgages. And, bingo!—I found more money.
On May 26, 2011, Nagi and his wife, Elizabeth, took out a $688,000 mortgage with The Washington Trust Company against their home at 90 West Bank Lane in Stamford. (Please note that, in the name of fiscal austerity, I have only copied the most relevant pages of this 15-page loan document. Unlike the law library’s printing charge of only 10 cents per page, the Town Clerk’s office charges a whole DOLLAR per page!)
Remember, too, that, on March 6, 2013, Nagi and Liz took out an additional $250,000 mortgage against 90 West Bank Lane. So their home—which they purchased in 1984—is now mortgaged for a total of $938,000.
As an interesting aside, the city’s current assessed value for Nagi’s home is $571,540. This represents 70% of market value, or $816,486. So Nagi’s home is now mortgaged for 115% of its market value (at least according to the City’s assessment figures).
Connecticut General Statute 36a-261(h) of our state’s banking regulations generally limits a home mortgage to 90% of the home’s value. So Nagi’s house is apparently “underwater” at this point. (Note that Nagi’s $688,000 mortgage represented only 84% of his home’s value, but the additional $250,000 second mortgage brought the total to well over the 90% mark. Of course, Nagi may have pre-paid a portion of his first mortgage prior to taking out the second one, so this may not be an accurate assessment.)
So we have accounted for nearly $1 million in funds that may be used to pay off the $3.1 million in loans from People’s Bank and CBT/Berkshire. But what about the rest of the money?
You may recall that Nagi has at least one other limited liability company beside Procurement LLC. In fact, his first two Maple Ridge property purchases were made under his “Sedulous LLC.” (As you can see from Note #4 in the spreadsheet, "sedulous" means "persevering and constant in effort." And its ablative is "dolus," or trickery, from the Greek "dolos," or cunning. A very apt name for Nagi’s LLC, in any case….)
When I re-searched the Town Clerk’s computer for “Sedulous LLC” last week, I finally hit “The Mother Lode!” On April 24, 2013, Nagi’s Sedulous LLC obtained a 15-year $2 million mortgage from Stamford First Bank. Now (in another interesting twist) the property on this mortgage is NOT any of Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” properties—it is Nagi’s jewelry store at 828 High Ridge Road!
(Again, please note that I have copied only the most interesting pages of this 40-page loan document. At a buck per page, can you blame me?)
It turns out that this is a pretty scary mortgage, to say the least. For example, section 4.1 (Events of Default) specifies that, in the event of a “default”—which includes such trivial oversights as failing to pay property taxes—the loan’s annual interest rate will skyrocket from an adjustable 4.15% to a whopping 18%!
(Note to Nagi: If I were you, I would personally deliver your July 1st property-tax payment to the Assessor’s Office on the sixth floor of the Government Center. It could be well worth the trip!)
Another way for Nagi to default on this loan would be to miss one of its $15,006.77 (!) monthly payments. Fortunately for Nagi, the loan payments will apparently be withdrawn directly from his account with Stamford First Bank. (Nagi’s account number actually appears on another page that I intentionally did not copy.)
But will this $2 million be used to pay off some of the loans on Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” properties, which are located next to Nagi Jewelers? It sure looks that way! Note that subsection (a) of Section 2.3 (“Use of Loan Proceeds”) on Page 30 of 40 states that:
“The Maker covenants and agrees that the proceeds of the Loan shall be utilized to refinance the Premises (as defined below); to payoff an additional loan on an adjacent property to the Premises and for closing costs.” (bolding emphasis added.)
Finally, note the following covenant at the bottom of that same page:
“The outstanding balance of the Loan shall at no time exceed seventy-five (75.00%) percent of the “as is” appraised fair market value of the Premises, as reasonably determined by the Lender’s appraiser.”
Perhaps The Washington Trust Company might wish to consider including a similar restriction in its future mortgage agreements….
(Coming next: Nagi Dances With the Stars!)
Nagi’s Day-Care is on the Market!
(Click the link above to see Nagi’s commercial listing for “The Day-Care That Isn’t There.”)
As I type this, the world is reeling from the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon and the city-wide manhunt for the bombing suspect still at large. I can only hope that, despite the heavy events of the day, you will enjoy this update.
Yes, you read the ad above correctly: Nagi is advertising a commercial day-care center at 808-826 High Ridge Road that is “immediately” available for lease! The ad even includes the same artist’s rendering of “Maple Ridge” that Nagi presented to the Zoning Board in September of 2011.
As you can see, the leasing cost for Nagi's day-care is $38,500 per month ($462,000 per year). This is probably at least three times the amount of rent that Nagi was collecting for the houses on these properties, most of which are now vacant, anyway. In light of the mountains of interest on Nagi’s loans and his stratospheric legal costs, he can surely use the money.
However, a prospective tenant will have to spend a little more than $38,500 per month for this Mid-Ridges gem, since it is being offered as an “NNN lease.” (NNN stands for “Net Net Net” or “Triple Net.”) Under this arrangement, the tenant must pay (1) the property taxes, (2) the insurance, and (3) the costs of maintenance on Nagi’s day-care center, in addition to the rent itself. (You can read more about triple-net leases in the Wikipedia link above.)
Aside from the significant triple-net costs, there is one other problem: the day-care center doesn’t even exist! In fact, the property still looks pretty much like this:
And—more importantly—both of Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” applications are still tied up in court! (It would be a brave day-care tenant, indeed, to bet the farm against these odds....)
You may recall that Nagi’s neighbor, Gurpreet Ahuja, filed a motion to intervene in Nagi’s appeal of the Zoning Board’s denial of his previous “Maple Ridge” application. Although Gurpreet’s motion was denied by the lower court, she was later granted certification to appeal that denial in Connecticut’s appellate court system. Her appeal is still pending.
In fact, Nagi’s trial date for his appeal was recently pushed back AGAIN, this time from April 17th to June 20th—not coincidentally, a week before the June 27th conference for Dr. Ahuja’s appeal. (Note that Nagi’s trial had previously been scheduled for January 28th before it was pushed back to April 17th.) In all likelihood, this is due to Gurpreet’s outstanding motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal. (Nagi’s trial cannot take place until Gurpreet’s motion is finally settled one way or the other.)
As you know, Gurpreet had also filed an appeal of the Zoning Board’s approval of Nagi’s latest “Maple Ridge” application. And, although the lower court dismissed this appeal, Gurpreet then filed an appeal of the dismissal! Her petition for certification for this appeal is also still pending in court, with no further updates appearing on the docket.
Can Nagi be so confident that he will prevail over both of Gurpreet’s appeals in Hartford? Perhaps he is. I have been told not to underestimate the power and influence of Nagi’s in-laws, the Gerstens, in Hartford’s appellate court system. Nagi’s brother-in-law, Attorney Eliot Gersten, is representing Nagi in these appeals. And Nagi’s late father-in-law, Charles Gersten, was clearly a “mover-and-shaker” in Hartford’s legal inner-circles, as well. So (just as with the Zoning Board’s pre-ordained approval of Nagi’s project in 2011) perhaps Nagi holds all of the chips in this game, too. We’ll see.
On a more humorous note: someone sent me a link to a great marketing ad called NAGI will pay your Taxes. As you can see, Nagi has offered to pay the sales tax on any purchase made at his jewelry store through 5 PM on April 20th. I was happy to see that Nagi's financial situation has improved so much that he can now afford to pay other people’s taxes. It’s certainly a far cry from the days of the City’s liens on Nagi’s properties at 808 High Ridge Rd. and 816 High Ridge Rd. for unpaid sewer-use charges. (Both of those liens were later removed after the past-due charges were paid.)
But where is Nagi’s new-found money coming from? Stay tuned….
Nagi: "The Loan Arranger?"
First, please accept my apologies...it's been a whole month since my last update! (Believe me, Flavia Lasalandra has been keeping track here. She sent an email today to wish me a happy Easter--and to gently remind me that she has been diligently checking my website every few days....)
To tell you the truth, I have had a difficult time analyzing Gurpreet Ahuja's latest appeal of (deep breath!) Judge Berger's dismissal of her appeal of the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's latest Maple Ridge application. Gurpreet's appeal cites several court cases as precedents, and these court cases, in turn, cite *other* court cases, ad nauseum. (I would really NOT want to be the judge(s) charged with settling this legal morass!)
Gurpreet's latest appeal raises the total number that we are tracking to FIVE! (Go ahead, count 'em.) And they have become so overwhelming that I'm going to hold off on my legal analysis for now. Instead, let's talk about money.
Remember that Nagi borrowed $1.4 million from People's Bank and $1.7 million from CBT. These loans--both of which had already been extended three times--were due in May of 2012. I have been checking the Town Clerk's office regularly since then for updates, but nothing appeared in the computerized records system. I was about to give up when I finally came across two extensions for Nagi's CBT loan:
$1.7 Million CBT / Berkshire Bank loan extension #4 (dated 6/13/12, extending the maturity date to 8/31/12)
$1.7 Million CBT / Berkshire Bank loan extension #5 (dated 9/28/12, extending the maturity date to 12/31/12)
(As you can see, CBT apparently merged with Berkshire Bank, which took over Nagi's loan.) Of course, we don't know what happened to this loan after 12/31/12, nor do we know the fate of the People's Bank loan at all. I'm not sure if banks have a legal obligation to file their loan documentation in a timely manner, but this clearly doesn't seem to be happening--at least not in the case of these loans from CBT/Berkshire and People's Bank.
Now, in contrast, The Washington Trust Company managed to file Nagi's $250,000 mortgage on his residence (90 West Bank Lane) only two WEEKS after Nagi and Liz Osta secured this open-ended line of credit on 3/6/13! (I guess that Washington Trust is more on the ball in this respect.)
Getting back briefly to the morass of appeals: the trial date for Nagi's appeal is only three weeks away, on 4/17/13. However, I'm not sure if this trial will actually take place, since Gurpreet's *other* appeal of (even deeper breath!!!) Judge Adams' rejection of Gurpreet's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal of the Zoning Board's rejection of his previous Maple Ridge application...is still winding its way through the appellate-court system.
And, finally, the next court date for Dr. Ahuja's appeal is "only" three months away, on 6/27/13. (Remember to re-check the judicial website after you have turned on your air conditioners this summer....)
I had been wondering why Nagi has not begun construction on "Maple Ridge," despite his recent victory against Gurpreet Ahuja's 12/29/11 appeal (of the Zoning Board's approval of his project). Rumors had been circulating that Gurpreet might go on to appeal the dismissal of her appeal to Connecticut's Appellate Court, but I hadn't found anything to substantiate those rumors...until now.
During this past weekend, I saw an intriguing update in Gurpreet's appeal. This update, #138.00, dated 2/13/13, is described as a "petition for certification." I remembered seeing that same term last June, in Gurpreet's appeal of Judge Adams' rejection of her motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal. That petition was finally accepted by Connecticut's Appellate Court on October 24th, about five months after Gurpreet filed it. So I decided that a long-overdue trip to Stamford Superior Court's law library was in order. I stopped by the courthouse after work yesterday, expecting to copy maybe a dozen or so pages....
What I didn't realize was that Gurpreet’s newest petition for certification (which costs 10 cents per page to copy) was 81 pages long! Unfortunately, my bag of coins was 10 cents short, so the law librarian had to break my $20 bill for the $8.10 copying cost. (BTW, you never want to unnecessarily inconvenience a law librarian.)
To make matters worse, I initially printed Gurpreet’s petition directly from the link on the judicial website. (Unlike what we see at home, the law library’s computers contain links to each document filed with the court.) But, after the petition printed out, I saw that the top inch of every page--and thus the first line of text--had been cut off, making the entire printout worthless. (The law librarian wasn't too happy about *that,* either.)
I finally had to download a PDF version of the petition, then use Adobe Reader to print the file using the "shrink-to-fit" option. But now the reduced printout was too small to read when scanned at 8-1/2" x 11". So I spent Monday evening manually trimming about an inch from three sides of all 81 pages, reducing the printout down to 6-1/2" x 8-1/2." I then scanned the reduced printout using the “custom paper size setting” to make it more readable. I hope that it helps. (The things that I do to keep you informed and entertained!)
Anyway, in hindsight, it looks like Nagi was right by not going ahead with "Maple Ridge"...at least not yet. At this point, Gurpreet's appeal is like the indestructible T-1000 robot in the movie Terminator 2. Just when you think that it is melted away, it suddenly resurrects itself!
If you click the link to Gurpreet's petition at the start of this update, you will see that it is only 11 (vs. 81) pages long. This is because I scanned the petition without its 70 pages of attachments for now. These attachments are listed in the petition's Appendix. Some of them already appear elsewhere on this website, but I hope to fill in the gaps during my next update. I will also talk about the legal issues behind Gurpreet's petition at that time. Stay tuned...
Audrey, Please Say it Ain't So!
While perusing the Advocate during breakfast this morning, I nearly choked on my English muffin when I read Elizabeth Kim's latest article. Apparently Mayor Pavia is "giving the boot" to former Zoning Board chairperson Audrey Cosentini (whom the Mayor had previously demoted from her chair position and replaced with the more developer-friendly Tom Mills). Despite that relative loss of influence on the board, Ms. Cosentini remained a vocal critic of anyone who would disregard Stamford's City Charter (which, like Ms. Cosentini, is being tossed out the window and replaced with something a little more "flexible"). Now, much to the delight of developers everywhere, Ms. Cosentini's voice will finally be silenced. (I imagine that Zoning Board member Barry Michelson's head will be next on the Mayor's chopping block.)
I have never personally spoken with Ms. Cosentini, but I feel as if I know her, nonetheless. Her "tell-it-like-it-is" attitude was a refreshing change from the business-as-usual politics that dominated our city in the past. Therefore, in her honor, I have updated my Board Minutes link to include ALL of the Zoning Board's and Planning Board's public hearings related to Nagi's project. You can find many of Ms. Cosentini's nuggets of wisdom enshrined within those minutes.
I will have more to say about the Zoning Board shakeup, but I have to get to work today. But stay tuned....
P.S.-- At 6 PM on Wednesday 2/20/13, the Ferguson Library on Broad Street is sponsoring a wine reception, presentation, and book signing for Vito Colucci, Jr. and his new book, Rogue Town, which exposes the rampant corruption that once strangled Stamford. Tickets for this event are only $15 and will benefit the Library. Hopefully our fair city will never again see times like those that Mr. Colucci ultimately exposed. Hopefully....
Judge to Dr. Ahuja: Lawyers are not Prisoners!
I had wanted to talk about the slow-motion dismantling of Nagi’s Revolutionary-War-era house at 808 High Ridge Road. Its “newest” layer of white plank siding—which probably dates back to the middle of last century—has been mainly stripped away, exposing a layer of dark-brown shingles beneath it. (See the photo in my previous update, below.) Could this be the beginning of Nagi’s new “Mid-Ridges Colonial Americana Museum,” or is 808 High Ridge Road being demolished one board at a time?
But our discussion of Nagi’s 233-year-old house will have to wait, for a new twist in those pesky court appeals by Nagi, Gurpreet Ahuja, and Dr. Ajay Ahuja just popped up on the state’s judicial website—this time in Dr. Ahuja’s appeal.
As you may recall, Dr. Ahuja appealed the Zoning Board of Appeals’ rejection of his application to build a day-care center across the street from Nagi’s proposed “Maple Ridge” development. And—predictably—Nagi filed a “motion to intervene” (MTI) in Dr. Ahuja’s appeal.
To refresh your memory here: If the court grants Nagi’s MTI, this will allow Nagi to be a co-defendant with the City in Dr. Ahuja’s appeal. Thus, any proposed settlement between Dr. Ahuja and the City would also have to be approved by Nagi. (This is the same tactic that Dr. Ahuja’s ex-wife, Gurpreet, employed when she attempted to intervene in Nagi’s appeal against the City.)
In response to Nagi’s motion to intervene, Dr. Ahuja wants to have Nagi deposed (that is, formally interviewed in a legal setting), in much the same manner that Gurpreet Ahuja was deposed regarding her MTI in Nagi’s appeal.
And so, employing the all-too-familiar “tit-for-tat” legal strategy that has dominated throughout these appeals:
1) Nagi, filed a motion to “quash” (i.e., declare invalid) Dr. Ahuja’s motion to have him deposed;
2) Dr. Ahuja filed a memorandum of objection to Nagi’s motion to quash;
3) Nagi filed a motion for extension of time to respond to Dr. Ahuja’s memorandum of objection, and, finally;
4) Dr. Ahuja filed an objection to Nagi’s motion for extension of time!
Believe me, I realize that all of this is pretty darn confusing. But keep in mind that we are dealing with only Dr. Ahuja’s appeal here. The court, in contrast, has to deal with three appeals (four, if you count Gurpreet’s appeal of Judge Adams’s denial of her MTI in Nagi’s appeal)! And all of these appeals are intertwined on several levels, which makes their adjudication even more complicated than an advanced calculus equation. This is why judges get paid big bucks.
Of course, judges are only human, too. And, if all of this legal wrangling is confusing and frustrating to you, imagine how it feels to the poor judges who must unravel the intricate details of, and interrelationships between, these appeals, then render legally binding decisions on them!
And so it appears that just a tiny bit of frustration may have leaked through Judge Alfred Jennings’ latest order in Dr. Ahuja’s appeal. On February 5th, Judge Jennings issued an order granting Nagi’s motion for an extension of time (item #3, above) and another order overruling Dr. Ahuja’s objection to Nagi’s motion (item #4, above).
As you can see from Judge Jennings’ last order, he provided a logical and reasonable explanation for his decision, even citing the relevant case law for it. But you just have to love the second sentence in his explanation:
“The practice of law is not a sentence to prison.”
In other words, Judge Jennings wants Dr. Ahuja to understand that the court allows reasonable delays in the judicial process for vacation plans, personal emergencies, and the like. (Actually, I don’t see any problem with Judge Jennings granting Nagi’s motion for an extension of time here, since Judge Douglas Mintz had already issued an order to schedule June 27th as the next court date in Dr. Ahuja's appeal!)
Judge Jennings then goes on to add one more admonishment: “All briefs shall stay within the five page limit.” I can understand this, too. There are currently thousands of pages of legal documents—motions, briefs, orders, memoranda, etc., plus all of the documents from the zoning applications themselves—that the court must take into account in each of these appeals. (These aren't murder trials, after all….)
So where does this leave Nagi? Well, I also saw that the court just re-scheduled the trial for Nagi’s appeal on April 17th. (The trial had previously been scheduled for January 28th, but then mysteriously dropped off the docket just before then.)
And what about Gurpreet Ahuja’s appeal against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi’s application? Although Gurpreet’s appeal was dismissed on January 4th, the rumor is that she would appeal the dismissal. While there has not yet been any confirmation of another appellate-court petition by Gurpreet, the fact that Nagi has not withdrawn his appeal tends to support this rumor.
Spring is on its way, so I imagine that Nagi and Dr. Ahuja are each vying for a true legal victory in time to take advantage of the construction season. Most of Nagi’s rental houses now appear to be unoccupied, which suggests that he may be preparing to file demolition permits for them. Will the court delay Dr. Ahuja’s day-care appeal long enough for Nagi to get a jump on the market by building “Maple Ridge” first? Or will both projects continue to be tied up in court? At this point, I wouldn’t place a bet on either outcome. But I will hopefully continue to be here to bring the news to you as it happens. Until then, please stay safe and warm….
Demetrios Meets Three of Us
As he had promised during his 2011 campaign, 16th District representative Demetrios Frazis held a neighborhood town-hall-style meeting at the Harry Bennett Library on January 30th. Unfortunately, only three people showed up: Flavia Lasalandra, her husband, and one other neighbor. But you can’t really count Flavia, since she shows up at everything related to land-use issues. And you can’t count Flavia’s poor husband, either, since she obviously dragged him along. So that leaves exactly one person who responded to Demetrios’ email.
Now, if you happen to be an advertising/marketing person, you know that this is still a pretty good response rate: about 10% of Demetrios’ “target audience” of 11 constituents. I actually thought about attending the meeting, but I wondered what kind of turnout Demetrios expected after emailing his notice to only 11 people. Unless he had promised a $100 bill to everyone who attended the meeting, I was sure that his email would not spread very far.
As an aside: Demetrios, please check out the “blind-carbon-copy” option in your email software; it will prevent future recipients from seeing each others’ addresses in your email. Actually, Nagi made the same mistake back on 10/5/11. At that time, Stamford’s Land-Use Chief, Norman Cole, provided Nagi with emails from every resident opposed to Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” project. Nagi, in turn, replied to these residents en masse, and some of them forwarded Nagi’s email to me. (You can click my Words with Nagi link, above, for the details.) Obviously, the opposing residents were not pleased with their email addresses being sent to, and then broadcasted by, Nagi. In fact, I even considered making this T-shirt with one resident’s remarks about the whole fiasco:
I’m not really knocking Demetrios here—at least he made an honest effort to fulfill his campaign promise (unlike many politicians). But, if he wants better results next time, he’ll have to do more to get the word out.
In my case, I had distributed thousands of flyers (2,549, to be exact) to our Mid-Ridges neighbors over a three-week period, walking for over 39 hours (and thus probably 70-80 miles) in the process. I also distributed hundreds of signs, posters, and stickers, and I started this website, too. And the results were absolutely amazing. For the first time in as far back as anyone could remember, we packed the cafeteria at the Government Center so much on 10/24/11 that the City actually had to suspend Nagi’s public hearing that evening!
As a special mid-winter treat, here is a never-before-released photo of the crowd forming in the cafeteria shortly before the meeting was suspended:
(Actually, I had taken several more photos before one of Nagi’s supporters expressed her disapproval at being photographed at the public hearing. Maybe she didn’t like her make-up that evening...I don’t know…)
Of course, Nagi—being no stranger to marketing and advertising himself—employed some of the very same methods. He handed out really neat orange “I Support Maple Ridge” buttons to his supporters at the 10/24 public hearing. He emailed residents to address their concerns. (OK, this one could have been handled better—see above.) And he even walked all over the neighborhood distributing his own flyer to promote his November 7th meeting at the Harry Bennett Library! (This was where Nagi announced the compromise with residents that Attorney John Leydon and I had brokered. Unfortunately, Nagi should have delivered his flyer to the Zoning Board members, too—none of them seemed to know much about our compromise at Nagi’s public hearing on November 10th.)
Heck, Nagi’s public-relations staff had even invited Cablevision’s News 12 to Nagi’s November 7th meeting at the library, and they actually showed up! If you missed Cablevision’s broadcast of the meeting, you can find it here. (BTW, I just love the newscaster’s description of Maple Ridge as “the Nagi Apartment Complex...”.)
Coming next: Nagi's house at 808 High Ridge Road is skinned alive!
Demetrios to Meet With Us!
I wanted to talk about today’s scheduled trial for Nagi’s appeal that mysteriously morphed into a “status conference” and was just as mysteriously called off completely at the last minute (!!!), but...
I just received word from Flavia Lasalandra that our 16th-District representative, Demetrios Frazis, is holding his very first “town-hall” meeting with his constituents! It will be at the Harry Bennett Library (115 Vine Road) from 5:30 to 7:00 PM on Wednesday, January 30th. (Our other 16th district rep, Sal Gabriele, may be there, too, but he has been very busy lately trying to get his mountain of legal fees reimbursed by the City….)
Anyway, here is Demetrios’ mass email (OK, it was sent to a very small mass of constituents--11, to be exact):
I am emailing you again in reference to our first 16th District Meeting to be held at the Harry Bennett Branch of the Ferguson Library on Wednesday, January 30 between the times of 5:30 - 7:00. This and the proceeding meetings are designed to function as an important advisory role in dealing with land use and zoning matters, the City budget, municipal service delivery, and many other matters relating to their communities' welfare. Being that I do not possess emails of all constituents, I encourage all recipients of this email to spread the word to your fellow neighbors. Together we can make a difference.
(Hey, Demetrios—I feel slighted! Did you lose my website’s email address? It's right at the top of this page!)
In any case, zoning and land-use matters have apparently become a hot topic here in Stamford. For more proof of this, check out the following Advocate articles, both from January 26th:
Here, reporter Elizabeth Kim (who has become an expert at keeping us apprised of Stamford’s gaggle of development projects) reveals that history in Stamford sometimes repeats itself. Witness the following quote:
The call for the city to buy the land at 205 Magee Ave. came from none other than former Mayor Dannel P. Malloy.
Back in 1999, Malloy found himself once again caught between a high-profile developer and a community vigorously opposed to the project.
[So.... How often has this theme been repeated over the years?]
And then we have Angela Carella’s equally scathing article:
Here’s my favorite line:
Whatever they find, it's clear that Stamford is a destination for contractors trying to evade the law.
(Why does this observation somehow remind me of Vito Colucci’s book, Rogue Town?)Angela’s ends her missive with this prophetic statement:
Unlike physicians, who swear to uphold the ethical standards of their profession, "there is no Hippocratic oath that developers take," Pechie said. "Maybe it's up to the public to decide whether it's the developer's fault. Maybe it's up to Stamford."
Amen to that, Angela…Amen to that....
In our civil court system, there are “continuances” (i.e., delays in court proceedings), and then there are, well, CON-TINUANCES! Let me explain.
The court often grants a continuance to any litigant who asks for one, with or without a reason. And, while there is no hard-and-fast rule, 30-day continuances are common. I have seen them granted in both Nagi’s appeal and the Ahuja appeals on several occasions. But I had never seen a five-month continuance—until now.
I just checked Dr. Ajay Ahuja’s appeal (of the ZBA’s rejection of his day-care application) to see how the hearing on Tuesday 1/22/13 had gone. It turns out that Judge Douglas Mintz has now ordered a continuance of Dr. Ahuja’s appeal…until June 27th! As I type this update, snow is falling outside and the temps are well below freezing. It’s hard to believe that Dr. Ahuja’s appeal won’t see a courtroom again until we are cooling off in swimming pools and using air conditioners! (Thus, it would appear that someone in the judicial system does not like Dr. Ahuja very much.)
This near-record-breaking continuance was requested by either the City or by Nagi. (Both are listed as defendants on the court’s website.) In any case, even if Nagi starts building “Maple Ridge” soon, we are apparently not going to see two day-care centers sprouting up simultaneously like twins on High Ridge at Bradley.
Speaking of “Maple Ridge,” it has now been 21 days since Judge Marshall Berger dismissed Gurpreet Ahuja’s appeal (against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi’s project). There is still nothing on the court’s website about Gurpreet appealing the judge’s decision, so it’s possible that Nagi may have finally shaken his “Ahuja Curse” more than a year after it began on 12/29/11. But the judicial website is not always updated in a timely fashion, so I’m going to keep checking it before declaring Gurpreet’s appeal to be dead in the water. (So will Nagi, I’m sure….)
On a related note, I heard that Attorney John Mullin recently resigned from his job as Stamford’s Assistant Corporate Counsel. (You may remember that Attorney Mullin had been heavily involved in the appeals, but then mysteriously dropped out of the picture.) In light of the City’s messy legal battles over the BLT boatyard fiasco, the demolition of Madonna Badger’s house, and (of course) the “Osta-Ahuja Wars,” I can understand why running for the hills might have been a viable option for poor Attorney Mullin. (Best of luck to you, sir, and may you end up in pastures greener than Stamford.)
Finally—speaking of Stamford—there is a newly published book about our fair city that may, or may not, relate to all of this. It is called Rogue Town, and it was written by former Stamford police officer and well-known private investigator Vito Colucci. I just ordered it on Amazon, and I can’t wait to give it a read. (Check out the book’s description and you’ll see why.)
Have a great weekend, and let’s see what the next week brings!
P.S.—Just as I was falling asleep after posting last night’s update, I remembered Judge Berger’s reason for transferring Gurpreet appeal and Nagi’s appeal from Stamford up to Hartford—where he later dismissed Gurpreet’s appeal. (I had written more about the judge’s order in my 10/5/12 update, below.) At that time, Judge Berger actually stated that these appeals were transferred "for the efficient operation of the courts and to ensure the prompt and proper administration of justice," in accordance with Connecticut statute 51-347b(a).
So…how is that “prompt and proper administration of justice” working out for you, Doctor Ahuja?
(Yep...I thought so….)
As you know, Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal (of the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's project) was dismissed on January 4th. She can still petition to appeal this dismissal in Connecticut's appellate court, but she only has 20 days from that date to do so. I have been checking the court's website, but nothing appears to have been filed yet. If Gurpreet doesn't appeal, Nagi will be free to start building Maple Ridge as approved by the Zoning Board last December. Gurpreet's deadline is only three days away, so Nagi must be biting his fingernails right now.
And there is another court date that might cause some concern for Nagi: a hearing at 2:00PM tomorrow (1/22/13) in Dr. Ajay Ahuja's appeal (of the Zoning Board of Appeal's rejection of his application to build a day-care center across the street from Nagi's proposed "Maple Ridge" development). You may remember that Nagi filed a motion to intervene in Dr. Ahuja's appeal. (Well, can you blame him?) But, in response to Nagi's motion, Dr. Ahuja apparently filed a motion to depose Nagi. This would allow Dr. Ahuja to ask Nagi a lot of probing questions (in the same manner that Eliot Gersten deposed Gurpreet Ahuja after she filed her motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal). As we can see in Gurpreet's deposition, these questions can be very personal, indeed. (Ouch, Nagi!)
And--last but not least--Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board (for rejecting his previous application) is going to trial a week from today--on Monday 1/28/13! Now, you may wonder why this appeal is still active, since Judge Berger made Nagi's previous application moot by dismissing Gurpreet's appeal against Nagi's current application. But note that, if Gurpreet appeals Judge Berger's decision, Nagi will want to keep his previous application alive. (In fact, if the court grants Nagi's appeal of his previous application, he will get a day-care for 120 children instead of the 90-child limit that the Zoning Board imposed when approving Nagi's current application.)
BUT...remember that Gurpreet has filed a motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal. And, when Judge Taggart Adams rejected that motion, Gurpreet appealed the judge's decision in appellate court! So Nagi's trial on Monday cannot even proceed until Gurpreet's appeal of Judge Adams's decision is heard, and that could take months!
Wow...even I am getting confused by this complex legal chess game. And I can't even begin to guess what will happen next. But, as soon as it does, I promise to do my best to explain it (if I can, that is). Wish me luck....
(Click the link above to read Kate King's 1/7/13 Advocate article about Judge Berger's ruling in favor of Nagi.)
Kate King did a nice job filling in for the Advocate's regular land-use reporter, Elizabeth Kim, who, unfortunately, was feeling a bit under the weather. (Feel better soon, Elizabeth!) Kate actually interviewed me for over 10 minutes, but she decided to keep my quote short and sweet. (I was hoping that she would have included my little quip about still waiting for our turning lane on Bradley Place....) So the article makes me sound more diplomatic than I actually was. To show you what I mean, here's a comment from an anonymous individual named "Gooseweasel" (who has also commented on me in the past):
10:04 PM on January 7, 2013
Paul that's it? Happy 2013?? Have you lost all your spunk???????
OK, Goose (whoever you are)--I know that the quote makes me sound like a dish-rag, but you don't have to rub it in. Also keep in mind that I did make an agreement with Attorney John Leydon not to oppose Nagi's project in exchange for the concessions that John and I hammered out back in November of 2011. And, even though over a year has transpired since then, I intend to keep my side of the bargain for as long as Nagi keeps his.
That being said, I have spent literally hundreds of hours researching and publishing LOTS of juicy info on Nagi''s project and the three appeals that it has spawned. (Or is it four appeals? Even I have lost count by now....) This easily qualifies me for an honorary degree in "Nagiology," if such a field existed. Also, I have to admit that it's been a lot of fun (especially posting Nagi's sewer-use bills on the Web!). But is it really and truly over? Only Gurpreet Ahuja knows for sure, and she's not talking...at least not yet....
Happy New Year, everyone! For Nagi, it looks like 2013 is starting out on a far better note than 2012 did. Today marks six days after the one-year anniversary of Gurpreet Ahuja’s 12/29/11 appeal of the Zoning Board’s decision to approve Nagi’s Maple Ridge project. And (are you sitting down?) Judge Marshall Berger has just dismissed Gurpreet’s appeal! Although we are now a few days past New Year’s, champagne corks must be popping all over Nagi’s place.…
Actually, sometimes it’s almost wrong to be right. Just as I had predicted the Zoning Board’s approval of Nagi’s project, I also mused in my 10/20/12 update (below) about the probable outcome of Attorney Eliot Gersten's rope-a-dope strategy. I’ll bet that the Ahuja legal team had no idea that Gurpreet’s appeal would eventually be transferred right to Eliot’s front door in Hartford. Talk about an advantageous change in venue....
Anyway, I reviewed Judge Berger’s 11-page decision, and he put a good deal of thought into it. The first part rests on the judge’s interpretation of the phrase “more than one public hearing.” Now, being a mere layman, I would believe this phrase to mean two or more public hearings held on separate dates. Thus, according to my long-standing interpretation, Nagi’s application required four public hearings in 2011: September 26th, October 6th, October 24th, and November 10th.
But—as we learned from former President Bill Clinton’s definition of “sexual relations”—words are always open to interpretation.
Let’s get the small stuff out of the way first: Page 2 of Judge Berger’s decision correctly notes the date of the October 24th hearing that was cancelled due to overcrowding. But then Page 4 shows that date to be October 26th. (This is trivial, but I wanted to show you that I did read the judge’s decision pretty carefully.)
Now, on to the important issue of “more than one public hearing…”.
On Page 5, Judge Berger cites the case of Roncari Industries, Inc. v. Planning and Zoning Commission. This case noted that Connecticut General Statute 8-3 does not require publication of additional notices when a hearing is continued or rescheduled. However, on Page 3, Judge Berger had already noted that Stamford’s planning and zoning issues are governed by the Stamford City Charter, not by the General Statutes.
And, as Judge Berger further notes, Stamford’s City Charter states that “If more than one public hearing is considered by the Zoning Board to be necessary or advisable, additional hearings may be held upon due notice, as herein set forth…” [italic emphasis added].
Judge Berger’s premise is that the phrase “more than one public hearing” does not refer to a continuation of a public hearing, but rather to an entirely new public hearing. Although I have tried, I’m having a hard time getting my head wrapped around this concept. Specifically, I’m trying to imagine a situation where a zoning board would see the need to schedule an entirely new public hearing for an application after it has held an initial public hearing. (If you can help me out here, please send an email—I really do want to understand this line of reasoning.) But let’s move on….
Judge Berger then tackles the second portion of Gupreet’s appeal, which addressed the changes that Nagi made to his application in response to our concerns—i.e. blocking off the driveway to Bradley Place, reducing the number of units from 22 to 17, and, most importantly (at least to me), making the units condominiums instead of apartments. Judge Berger notes Gurpreet’s claim that “because these changes were significant and thus materially altered the proposal, the Board should have published a new notice.” (Actually, I reviewed Gurpreet’s appeal, and I believe that her contention was that such changes require a whole new application, not just a new notice.) But the judge does not agree with Gurpreet's assertion here. (You can read about his reasoning in his decision.)
Finally, Judge Berger addresses Gurpreet’s concern about the impact on traffic caused by closing off the driveway between Maplewood Place and Bradley Place. Here the judge mentions Nagi’s all-knowing traffic engineer, Joe Balskus, who stated at the November 10th hearing that there would be no impact from closing off Maple Ridge’s driveway to Bradley Place. Judge Berger noted that no one had submitted any other traffic study to counter Joe’s assertion. But, to be fair, no one would have had any time to do that—not even the Zoning Board members were aware of the changes until the last public hearing on November 10th. (I remember board member Audrey Cosentini complaining that she did not find out about Nagi's changes until she read them that day in the Advocate!)
As for the traffic impact: there are only 14 houses on Maplewood Place. It’s hard to imagine that those residents will not be impacted by vehicles entering and exiting Maple Ridge's two remaining driveways on High Ridge Road and Maplewood Place. (But then, I’m not a traffic engineer like Joe Balskus….)
In the end, Judge Berger notes that Nagi was only trying to make his neighbors happy, and that to punish him for his kindness by requiring a whole new application would be “most unjust.” I have to agree with the judge here—after all, I was the person who worked out the compromise with Attorney John Leydon. But, as the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. And it does appear that, if Nagi had never made those concessions in the first place, Gurpreet’s appeal might never have existed.
So, now that Gurpreet’s appeal has been dismissed, when will we see the demolition notices for Nagi’s houses on High Ridge Road? Actually, we still have to wait a little longer, in case Gurpreet files an appeal of Judge Berger’s decision (as she has already done with Judge Adams’s decision). So stay tuned….
Appeals Hijacked to Hartford!Sorry for my delay in updating the site; I've been out of commission all week with back pain. (Maybe I should consult with the shamanic healer at Nagi's Ladies Night benefit on October 24th, since conventional medicine isn't helping me at all....) I'm still in pain, but there has been so much "Nagi-News" that I just have to share one important item with you before I go back to bed.
Vandals Strike Nagi!!!
Shortly after midnight last
night, one of my neighbors on High
Ridge Road heard a loud ruckus on the street near
Nagi Jewelers. It seems that a group of vandals trashed the late-model car that
has been parked in front of 820
High Ridge Road (which is one of Nagi’s “Maple
Ridge” houses). I just drove up to the scene of the crime to provide you with
photos of this late-breaking news:
As you can see, it looks like someone jumped on and/or kicked the car’s windshield, since that kind of damage is too dispersed to have been caused by a rock. And the last time I saw a side-view mirror ripped off like that was when Travis the chimp did it to a police car during that horrific attack in North Stamford.
Apparently these hooligans also damaged the “Entrance Only” sign at the front driveway of Nagi Jewelers. I saw that the sign is leaning over today, so I presume that this happened last night. I was going to take a photo of the sign, but I don’t want ruffle Nagi’s feathers any more than I’m sure they already are. (Sorry that you had the problem, Nagi.)
What these hoodlums probably don’t know is that Nagi Jewelers has more security cameras than Fort Knox. As I type this, I would bet that Nagi is reviewing his video recordings of the incident. So (as the saying goes) “stick a fork in ’em, because they’re done…”. Hopefully we will soon read about the arrests in the Advocate. (If you know the identities of the suspects, please call the Stamford Police Property Crimes Division at 203-977-4407. All calls will be kept confidential.)
P.S.—Today marks one year to the day since I attended my first public hearing on Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” project after reading Elizabeth Kim’s 9/23/11 article, “High Ridge day care, housing project back before Zoning Board” in the Advocate. If you told me back then that I would be working on a website about Nagi’s project today, I would have said that you were crazy. But, even after a year, there’s still much to tell you about. For instance, tomorrow the court is finally holding a conference on Nagi’s appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting his previous Maple Ridge application, (filed in April 2010). There’s also been a lot happening in Gurpreet Ahuja’s appeal and in the Ahuja Holdings appeal. And I have even seen some very intriguing activity taking place at Nagi's Revolutionary War-era house at 808 High Ridge Road. Stay tuned….
Condolences and Revelations
I wish to extend my sincere condolences to the Osta and Gersten families for the loss of Nagi’s mother-in-law, Zelda Gersten, who died on September 5th. Upon learning of her passing, I decided that a two-week moratorium on updates out of respect for her was appropriate. I, too, know the pain of losing a parent.
As you can see from Zelda’s obituary, she was an early advocate of child day-care centers in hospitals and corporations. In fact, she contributed to a 248-page white paper, “Windows on Day Care” (published in 1972 by the National Council of Jewish Women) to promote this idea. Could Zelda have encouraged Nagi to build a day-care center at “Maple Ridge?” Considering her apparently long-standing passion for them, this is entirely possible.
You may recall from my previous updates that Zelda’s late husband, Charles Gersten, was a “mover-and-shaker” in his own right. He was a Harvard Law graduate, an attorney, a bank founder, and a federal mediator, and he was apparently very well-respected in his community. I also imagine that, in his lifetime, he had amassed quite a fortune, which will presumably be passed on to the three surviving children (including Nagi’s wife, Liz Osta).
But the Gersten legacy of financial accomplishment did not, by any means, end with Charles and Zelda. I recently became aware that their son, Eliot Gersten (who, in addition to being Nagi’s brother-in-law, is also one of his attorneys) is a commercial developer! This press release from Eliot’s employer, Pullman & Comley LLC, contains the following tidbit: “In addition to his experience as an attorney, Eliot has a considerable background in business and as a developer and manager of commercial real estate in central Connecticut and western Massachusetts.”
Coincidentally, one of Eliot’s current projects is a 13,000-square-foot CVS store in Hartford. (You may remember that I had once compared Nagi’s 40,000-square-foot “Maple Ridge” project to the 13,000-square-foot CVS store on High Ridge Road.) And—in yet another coincidence—a 100-year-old office building apparently had to be demolished in order to make way for Eliot’s new CVS store! (Nagi is facing a similar developmental obstacle with his “Maple Ridge” houses, nearly all of which are over 50 years old. One of them—808 High Ridge Road—is well over two CENTURIES old.)
In light of these revelations, could it be that “Maple Ridge” was inspired (and perhaps even partially financed) by the Gersten family, and that poor Nagi is merely the public face of this beleaguered project? I have been checking the Town Clerk’s office for the latest news on Nagi’s $3.1 million in bank loans (both of which were due and payable in May), but nothing has been filed yet. Will Eliot now become Nagi’s financier as well as his attorney? We’ll see….
The Devil in the Demo Details
Sorry for my delay in updating the site—the sheer size of this home page (now close to 100 pages!) has finally overwhelmed GoDaddy’s web-publishing software. I’m still working on a way to move the older info to another page (again) without losing a bunch of links and photos in the process. Thanks for your patience, and wish me luck.
Anyway, I had mentioned that Nagi can demolish his “Maple Ridge” houses any time he wishes. And, in fact, my “spies” in the utility companies have told me that the electric, water, and gas services were recently cut from #808 High Ridge Road, apparently to prepare for its demolition. This is the 232-year-old Revolutionary-War-era house that is listed on the State of Connecticut’s Historic Resource Inventory. So, from Nagi’s perspective, knocking out this house first is like knocking out the biggest guy in a fight—if he can successfully eliminate this potentially historic property, then the others should be easy.
But—as with everything else that Nagi has touched lately—there are a lot of “fine-print” issues to overcome before the demolition can take place—and the potential need for a sidewalk shed is minor compared to some of them.
Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you want to knock down a house that you own. Your first step (unless you are in the demolition business) is to find a contractor to handle the job. That’s the easy part. But then you have to obtain a demolition permit from the City of Stamford’s Building Department, and that’s a bit more difficult. Here is the application form for a demolition permit.
As you can see, the minimum fee for a demolition permit is $200. (In terms of Nagi’s finances, this represents only about 12 hours of interest on his loans, so it’s no big deal.) But, in addition to the fee, you will need to submit certified proof from various professionals that:
Speaking of certified proof, you also need to submit proof that you mailed certified notices of your demolition permit application to every single property owner within a 100-foot radius of the property to be demolished. (Unfortunately for Nagi, the Ahuja family will have to be included in this mailing.)
Then you need to submit photographic proof that you have conspicuously posted a 2’ x 3’ sign with two-inch high block letters to notify the public of your proposed demolition. This sign must face the street, and it must contain a full description and address of the building to be demolished, as well as your name and address, and the date of the proposed demolition. (So far, I have not seen such a sign in front of 808 High Ridge Road.)
Finally, if the house is over 50 years old and over 500 square feet in size (four out of five of Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” houses are over 50 years old), the Building Department must publish a legal notice of the proposed demolition in The Advocate for you. If anyone, anywhere (not just an abutting neighbor) submits a letter in opposition of your proposed demolition to the Building Department, your demolition must be delayed for 180 days. (The demolition application form states only 90 days, but this mandatory waiting period was increased to 180 days via City Ordinance #1124 in 2011.)
This is only the beginning—there are other “demolition details” that I have to share with you. So, as “Ahhh-nuld” said in the movie Terminator, “Ah’ll be baaahck…
Too Close for Comfort?I had promised more photos of Nagi's "Maple Ridge" houses in my previous update, so here they are.
808 High Ridge Road (facing northbound)
816 High Ridge Road (facing northbound)
820, 816, and 808 High Ridge Road (facing southbound)
Now, the first thing that you probably noticed is how overgrown the front lawns have become. During my meeting with Nagi on 10/4/11, he told me several times that he really cares about our neighborhood. (Yes, Nagi was aware that I had recorded this meeting.) So I was very disappointed when I saw these unkempt lawns. Let's face it…these front yards are as small and easy to mow as they come. (To Nagi's credit, the grass was cut the day after I posted my previous photos. Thank you for being a good neighbor again, Nagi!)
But Nagi’s formerly overgrown lawns are not the point of this update. Take a look at how close each of these houses is to High Ridge Road, and especially to the sidewalk. When High Ridge Road was widened to five lanes, these homes lost most of their front yards. (I still remember when this road was only four lanes wide many years ago. Back then, people referred to it as the Yankee Division Highway.)
Now imagine what could happen if someone was walking past one of these houses just as demolition debris was flying off the upper story. (Can you say "lawsuit?") And, in fact, there is a state law in place to prevent such a tragedy. That’s why I posted a photo of a sidewalk shed in my 8/18/12 update. Here is the text of Connecticut General Statute 29-409:
Sec. 29-409. (Formerly Sec. 19-403j). Sidewalk shed requirements.
No person shall demolish any building or structure or part thereof, when such building, structure or part is within six feet of a street line, or is twelve feet or more in height, or is within six feet of an area which the owner or lessee provides and invites the public to use as it would a public way, or when the distance between such street line or area and such building, structure or part is more than six feet but less than one-half the total height of the object to be demolished, without causing to be erected and maintained a sidewalk shed meeting the requirements of this section. Such shed shall:
(1) Extend for the full length of the building on all street fronts;
(2) exist for the duration of the demolition operations;
(3) be not less than four feet wide and six feet eight inches high in the clear;
(4) be watertight, and
(5) be adequately lighted for pedestrian traffic.
When the roof of any such shed is used for the storage of material or for the performance of work of any kind, adequate railings, not less than three feet high, and solid toe boards, not less than six inches high, shall be affixed along the open sides and ends of such roofs. The roofs of such sheds shall be of sufficient strength and stability safely to sustain the weight of materials that may be placed thereon and the shocks incidental to the handling, preparation for use, trucking or delivery of materials. The requirements of this section, as they relate to street lines, shall not apply in any case in which all such streets are officially closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The building official may waive any of the requirements of this section, if the object to be demolished is more than forty feet from any street line or area used as a public way and its demolition is accomplished by the removal of one story at a time.
Tricia's Wish Finally Comes True!Sorry about the two-week delay since my last update--I have been learning all about building demolition (and there was a lot to learn!). I had planned on putting everything in one update, but the task was so daunting that I kept putting it off. Flavia Lasalandra finally got me moving by scolding me about not updating the site. (I actually felt like a kid who didn't hand in his term paper at school--Flavia is a teacher, so she's a pro at this.)
11 Maplewood Place
Nagi's Nice Price: $620,000 (5/19/11)
*** Grand Total: $3,633,450 ***
(I know, I know--I was thinking the same thing myself....)
Those of you who walk around Manhattan will immediately recognize this as a "sidewalk shed." You also see them on some construction sites in downtown Stamford--and for good reason. But when was the last time that you saw one on High Ridge Road? (Hint to Nagi's legal team: Review C.G.S. 29-409.)
Stay tuned--there's a lot more to come in the next few days, I promise....
Nagi Tosses Tia the Tenant!
(but was the eviction kosher?)
I recently heard through the grapevine that Nagi has asked the tenants in his “Maple Ridge” properties to move out because he’s finally ready to build something there. You might wonder how Nagi can build anything when both of his Maple Ridge applications are still tied up in court. Legally, he can’t—but he CAN demolish the existing structures on the properties. (Actually, Nagi could have demolished those houses as soon as he purchased them, beginning back in 2001. In fact, he did exactly that to the house at #826 High Ridge Road, next to Nagi Jewelers. But this wouldn’t have made much sense, since he would have lost over four years of rental income on the remaining five houses.)
About a week ago, I saw a moving truck backed up to Nagi’s rental property at #820 High Ridge Road. At first, I assumed that the tenant there was being especially nice to Nagi, but this wasn’t the case. As you can see, the tenant, Tia Gordon, was legally evicted from the property on 7/26/12.
But here's the interesting part…. As you can see from the eviction docket, the plaintiff was apparently NOT Procurement, LLC (the legal owner of #820 High Ridge Road), but was, instead, Nagi himself! (As an aside, check out the deed transactions for this property. I only wish that *I* had bought it in 1997 for $185,000, then sold it to Nagi in 2008 for $750,000..a tidy little profit of over 300%! Hassan Torkamani, wherever you are, you are one lucky son-of-a-gun!)
Now, I know that I always use Nagi’s name instead of Procurement LLC whenever I discuss issues that are, strictly speaking, related to Procurement LLC. (From a legal perspective, Nagi merely manages this LLC.) But this is a website, not a court of law. Unless Procurement recently transferred ownership of #820 High Ridge Road to Nagi, I believe that Procurement should have been listed as the plaintiff in Tia Gordon's eviction.
To illustrate my point, note that Nagi retained Attorney Mark Phillips to handle this eviction. (BTW, I have almost lost count of the total number of attorneys involved in Nagi’s “Maple Ridge” application.) Take a look at the plaintiffs in Attorney Phillips’ eviction cases. As you can see, the majority of plaintiffs in these evictions are housing authorities or corporations. Even though the entities are represented by individual agents in court, the entity (not the agent) is shown as the plaintiff on the eviction dockets.
Unfortunately for Tia Gordon, she had represented herself in her eviction, so she apparently was not aware that Procurement LLC was, in fact, the legal owner of the house. She probably should have read this book, which (as you can see) is available free of charge both online and at the Norwalk Housing Court. As the book mentions, she might have even qualified for legal aid!
And, since Nagi is in the rental business, he can probably use the info in this book. In fact, he'd better read it well—especially if he plans on expanding his rental properties in this economy….
P.S.—I said that Nagi can demolish the houses on his properties at any time, even if he chooses not to replace them. However, there is one big catch to the demolitions that we haven’t talked about yet. Stay tuned….
Court Grants Nagi's Motion to Intervene!Nagi just scored a BIG win in court against Dr. Ajay Ahuja! Remember that, on May 3rd, Dr. Ahuja sued the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for rejecting his application to build a day-care center across the street from Nagi's proposed "Maple Ridge" development. And, on July 19th, Nagi filed a "motion to intervene" as a co-defendant with the ZBA in Dr. Ahuja's appeal. Now, you may recall that Judge Taggart Adams had previously rejected Dr. Ahuja's ex-wife, Gurpreet's, "motion to intervene" in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board. Yet Judge A. William Mottolese has just granted Nagi's motion to intervene in Dr. Ahuja's appeal! (Remember what I said about the importance of "judge shopping?")
Gurpreet Bares All!
I just finished reading all 95 pages of Gurpreet Ahuja’s three-hour (!) deposition, which she provided on June 1st to Attorney Eliot Gersten, who is one of Nagi’s attorneys…and also happens to be his brother-in-law. (This website is almost beginning to resemble a reality TV show, isn’t it?)
I have posted Gurpreet’s deposition below in *most* of its glory. As you can imagine, there are a lot of juicy personal tidbits there. In the interest of responsible journalism, however, I have redacted about 50 lines that reveal Gurpreet’s private medical information, as well as a family tragedy that she endured. (I’m still getting flak from my brother—a.k.a. my “social conscience”—for posting how much Nagi's tenants pay to flush their toilets!) These 50 redacted lines represent only about 2% of the 2,000+ lines contained in the deposition.
Don’t bother using Photoshop to uncover the redacted lines, since I actually cut them out of the printed document with a razor knife prior to scanning it. (I had previously crossed out the lines with a black magic-marker, then scanned the document. But my scanner picked up the redacted info under the marker, so I went back to the drawing board.) If you just have to know the redacted info, you can get your own copy of the deposition at the law library (for 10 cents per page) or at the court clerk’s office (for a dollar per page) in Stamford Superior Court. (Hint: Use the law library—it’s a lot cheaper. And shame on you for being so nosy!)
Finally, this is a large PDF file—almost 15 megabytes—so it will take a little time to download. For the techies out there, I had to scan it at 300-dpi resolution instead of the 200-dpi setting that I normally use. That’s because each full page actually contains four pages of reduced text, which, as a result, is pretty tiny. The higher resolution allows you to read the text clearly after you magnify it in Adobe Reader. So, without further ado, here it is:
As you recall, Gurpreet appealed the Zoning Board’s approval of Nagi’s current Maple Ridge application. She also filed a motion to intervene in Nagi’s appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting his previous Maple Ridge application. So, as an “appearing” party in both her own appeal and Nagi's appeal, she is fair game for some very probing questions. Attorney Gersten inquiry was therefore apparently designed to:
1) reveal any business connections between Gurpreet and her ex-husband, Dr. Ajay Ahuja and/or their son, Attorney Nicholas Ahuja;
2) reveal Gurpreet’s relative lack of knowledge about Nagi’s application, in spite of her having filed an appeal against its approval;
3) discredit Gurpreet’s assertion that she was “aggrieved” because she apparently did not receive any formal notice of Nagi’s application or the public hearings; and
4) point out the apparent inconsistency between Gurpreet’s opposition to Nagi’s project across the street and her implicit approval of her ex-husband’s and son's project next door.
Note that Dr. Ahuja and his son, Attorney Nicholas Ahuja, are the principals of Ahuja Holdings, LLC, through which they have applied to build a day-care center directly across the street from Nagi’s proposed “Maple Ridge” development (which also includes a day-care of its own). The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected the Ahuja’s day-care proposal, so they filed an appeal of their own against the ZBA in court.
Finally—to add another “all-in-the-family” twist here—Attorney Ahuja also happens to represent Gurpreet in her appeal against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi’s project.
One of the first things that I noticed in Gurpreet’s deposition is the language barrier that apparently existed between her and Attorney Gersten. There were several words that she did not understand (for example, “renderings,” “veto,” etc.), and Attorney Gersten had to re-phrase them in an attempt to allow her to grasp his questions. Perhaps the deposition might have gone more smoothly if an interpreter had been present.
Next, Gurpreet is clearly not familiar with the details of Nagi’s project. She refers to Nagi’s proposed buildings as “humongous,” but she has no idea of their actual sizes. She also repeatedly states that Nagi’s proposed day-care will hold 180 children. (He had, in fact, applied for 120 children, but the Zoning Board knocked that number down to 90 children.) She admits that she has never seen the actual plans or any of the associated studies for Nagi’s project, but she is against it, anyway. (Perhaps she will read my flyers and/or these web pages to become more “educated” before she has to testify in court for her appeal.)
An interesting revelation is that, although Gurpreet was apparently divorced from Dr. Ahuja in 1999, they still live together! But Gurpreet repeatedly states that she and Dr. Ahuja do not speak to each other in their home. (Hmmm...this sounds like a lot of married couples to me….) Also, Gurpreet appears to co-own the Darien Immediate Medical Care Center with Dr. Ahuja. (Attorney Gersten did not ask Gurpreet whether this partnership existed before or after the divorce, however.)
Gurpreet stated that she chose not to attend the public hearings on Nagi’s project because of her physical condition (the details of which I have redacted), and because she did not believe that the Zoning Board would approve Nagi’s application for 22 units after it had rejected Nagi’s previous application for only 10 units. (It was actually nine units, but even I was not sure of this number until I found the documents for Nagi’s previous application.) If not for the change in the makeup of the Zoning Board between Nagi’s previous and current applications, this would have been a reasonable assumption. (Ah, what a difference a single board member--in this case, Tom Mills--can make!)
On the other hand, Gurpreet then stated that she would have attended Nagi’s public hearings if she had received a notice in the mail about Nagi's current application and/or the hearings! Attorney Gersten does a good job here of focusing on the apparent inconsistency of Gurpreet's statement (i.e., what difference would it have made if Gurpreet had received notice in the mail, since she was clearly aware of Nagi’s application beforehand?). However, Attorney Gersten’s questioning implied that there was only one public hearing, when, in fact, there were four. (One hearing had been suspended, but a total of four were scheduled, all of which required public notice.)
Speaking of inconsistencies: Gurpreet’s deposition finally answered a question that I have had for awhile now. I had wondered how she could complain about Nagi’s proposed development across the street when her family was proposing its own development right next door? Gurpreet’s answer—while self-serving—at least makes some sense. She implied that she is willing to put up with the increased traffic and pollution from an Ahuja-built day-care because it will make her son, Nicholas (whom she also refers to as “my blood”), “prosperous.” In this respect, I guess that she is being a good mother, although not the best of neighbors. (At least she didn’t try to convince Attorney Gersten that her son’s day-care would NOT have an adverse impact on traffic, while Nagi’s development would!)
Gurpreet repeatedly states that she was aware of Nagi’s public hearing[s] from
discussions around her house and in the neighborhood—and from my website, which
she has apparently checked on occasion. On Page 31 of the deposition, Gurpreet
incorrectly referred to my website as “Nagi Stop.” This unintentional
name reversal got me thinking that, if Nagi had received approval in 2009 for
his proposed strip mall, Nagi-Stop would have been a GREAT name for a
(I’m just sayin’….)
Coming next—a walk down “Memory Lane” with Nagi….
Nagi Copies Gurpreet's Tactic!
In my last update, I said that I would try to predict what Nagi might do next. Maybe it's a good thing that I haven't done this yet, since I NEVER would have guessed what just happened.
As you know, I regularly check the state's judicial website for updates on these three appeals:
1) Nagi’s appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting Nagi’s previous Maple Ridge application;
2) Gurpreet Ahuja’s appeal against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi’s current Maple Ridge application, and;
3) Dr. Ajay Ahuja’s and Atty. Nicholas Ahuja’s appeal against the Zoning Board of Appeals for rejecting their day-care application.
Click on Dr. Ajay Ahuja's appeal (#3, above), then scroll to "Parties & Appearances." Note that Sedulous LLC and Procurement, LLC have just been added as prospective co-defendants in Dr. Ahuja's appeal against the ZBA. (As you can see from the LLC links above, Nagi is the principal of both Sedulous and Procurement. Sedulous, in turn, is the legal owner of Nagi Jewelers at 828 High Ridge Road, while Procurement is the legal owner of Nagi's proposed "Maple Ridge" properties at 808 , 812 , 816 , 820 , and 826 High Ridge Road, plus 11 Maplewood Place.
Now it gets even better. Scroll down to the 7/19/12 court entry (#103.00) in Dr. Ahuja's appeal. Yes, it's true...Sedulous and Procurement LLC have just filed a motion to intervene in this appeal! Now, remember that Dr. Ahuja's ex-wife, Gurpreet Ahuja, had previously filed her own motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board. Gurpreet's motion was later denied by Judge Taggart Adams, but, had it been accepted, it would have allowed Gurpreet to participate in Nagi's appeal and proposed settlement with the Zoning Board.
Deep down, Nagi must have really liked Gurpreet's tactic, since he copied it almost verbatim! In fact, most of the supporting court cases cited in Nagi's motion to intervene are the same ones used in Gurpreet's motion:
One Hundred Nine North LLC v. New Milford Planning Commission
Bucky v. Zoning Board of Appeals
Kobyluck v. Montville
Oakdale Development, L.P. v. Zoning Board of Appeals
Rosado v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation
This duplication of Gurpreet's supporting cases saved me a lot of time--I didn't have to scan and upload them, since I had already done that for my 6/8/12 update, below. (Thank you, Nagi!) In fact, you can also read my synopsis of each case there.
Thus, Nagi has moved to intervene in Dr. Ajay Ahuja's appeal against the ZBA using nearly the same arguments that Gurpreet Ahuja used in her attempt to intervene in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board! I suppose that Dr. Ahuja can now "repay Nagi's compliment" by using the same arguments that Nagi used in his objection to Gurpreet's motion to intervene! (Isn't it amazing how lawyers can play both sides of the fence to suit their needs?)
Actually, I have a LOT more reading to do in Nagi's motion to intervene. I have only shown you the motion itself, but there is much more to the entire document, which I picked up at the courthouse today. For one thing, it includes a 95-page (!) transcript of Gurpreet Ahuja's deposition to Nagi's brother-in-law, Attorney Eliot Gersten. (Fortunately, that printout is condensed so that every four pages of the deposition fit onto each page.) And Nagi's motion also includes--of course--summaries of its supporting court cases, a few of which were not copied from Gurpreet's motion. So there goes my weekend.....
P.S. -- On Monday, 7/23/12, the City of Stamford is holding back-to-back interactive workshops (at 4 PM and 7 PM) in the Government Center to get our ideas regarding future development along High Ridge Road. Hopefully they won't be canceled due to a transformer fire this time....
Nagi Unsettles!In an amazing turn of events, Nagi has withdrawn his proposed settlement of his appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting his previous Maple Ridge application! On July 10th--apparently during Judge Mintz's hearing on the settlement agreement--Nagi filed a withdrawal of his motion for the settlement agreement dated 3/13/12, as well as a withdrawal of an amended settlement agreement dated 6/22/12. (Actually, these settlement agreements are identical, but--as I had pointed out in my 6/20/12 update--the e-filed version of the earlier agreement was missing Page 9. The amended agreement actually mentions this fact.)
Nagi's Political Hot Potato
Stamford Zoning Board member Barry Michelson is running for the Connecticut State Senate in District 27! You may remember that Barry was one of two Zoning Board members who voted against Nagi's Maple Ridge application in December. (The other member was former chairperson Audrey Cosentini.) Advocate reporter Kate King wrote the following in her July 5th article about Michelson's Senate bid:
Michelson said his work to help establish a temporary boatyard at the site of the former Brewer's Yacht Club has been one of his biggest accomplishments as a Zoning Board member. He also voted against jeweler Nagi Osta's controversial day care and housing development on High Ridge Road.
"I thought it was too intense of a development, an overly ambitious use of the property parcel," Michelson said. "I tried to moderate a less intense use and unfortunately there were others who didn't go along with my thoughts on it."
So Nagi's project has become an official symbol of overly ambitious development in Stamford! And this is not the first time that a politician has spoken out against Maple Ridge. My November 7th update (under the Rowdy Days! link) contains quotes from other local politicians, as well. Although any publicity is better than none, Nagi probably prefers Maple Ridge to remain out of the political limelight while his appeal is tied up in court.
In any case, I wish Mr. Michelson the best in his Senate bid, and I'm sure that Mayor Pavia would like to see Michelson win, too. For, if this happens, Michelson will have to give up his seat on the Zoning Board. And Audrey Cosentini would become a lone voice for the people in a staunchly pro-developer Zoning Board.
P.S.--Judge Mintz's continued hearing on Nagi's appeal is scheduled for tomorrow, so I'll be keeping an eye on the judicial website for more "Nagi News."
One of my prankster co-workers left this little gem in my car--it’s an official “Squeez-A-Nagi” TM foam-rubber stress reliever! You can get your very own FREE “Squeez-A-Nagi” TM from People’s Bank at 1022 High Ridge Road, right up the street from Nagi Jewelers. And you can even enter a drawing for a high-end watch, courtesy of Nagi. (If Chris Brecciano wins THIS contest, Nagi is gonna have some splainin’ to do!)
Actually, I’ll bet that Nagi would like to have one of these stress relievers made up in my likeness, the kind where the eyeballs pop out when you squeeze it:
On a more serious note--rumors are flying about negotiations between Nagi’s attorneys and Gurpreet Ahuja’s attorneys. Up until now, it’s been a battle between The Irresistible Force and The Immovable Object. For every brilliant legal move that Nagi’s attorneys have made, Gurpreet’s attorneys have countered with one of their own. But the court is holding yet another hearing on Nagi’s appeal on July 10th, and the City might actually attempt to settle three appeals at the same time there. To refresh your memory, they are:
1) Nagi’s appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting Nagi’s previous Maple Ridge application;
2) Gurpreet Ahuja’s appeal against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi’s current Maple Ridge application, and;
3) Dr. Ajay Ahuja’s and Atty. Nicholas Ahuja’s appeal against the Zoning Board of Appeals for rejecting their day-care application.
(Come to think of it, Stamford Corporation Counsel John Mullin
could use one of those stress-relievers, too!)
Anyway, at this point, the end-result of the “Osta-Ahuja Accord” is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned…..
"Apply, Appeal, And Apply Again"
(or why Nagi's "parallel-application" strategy for Maple Ridge may not have been such a great idea....
I just checked the state's judicial website, and my anonymous email was apparently accurate: Judge Mintz has scheduled another hearing on Nagi's appeal for 2:30 PM on Tuesday, July 10th! We can expect that Attorney Brenden Leydon will do his best to convince the court that the proposed settlement between Nagi and the Zoning Board regarding Nagi's appeal is "A Good Thing." And, in contrast, Attorney Glenn Gazin (and possibly Attorney Nicholas Ahuja) will attempt to convince the court of the exact opposite.
I reviewed Attorney B. Leydon's objection to Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene and compared it to Gurpreet's motion to intervene itself. I noticed that Attorney Leydon barely acknowledged the existence of Nagi's second Maple Ridge application in his objection--and with good reason. His job is to present the most favorable perspective of Nagi's application to the court, as you will see below.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I created the following graphical representation :
As the timeline shows, Nagi submitted an application for Maple Ridge in April 2010. That application was for nine apartments and a day-care for 120 children. (As the article describes, this was not Nagi's first attempt at developing his properties. He had previously submitted a plan for a commercial development that was soundly trounced. But his 2010 submission was his first attempt at developing an apartment complex and day-care center.)
The Zoning Board held hearings on Maple Ridge in December 2010, but rejected Nagi's application in January 2011, basically due to concerns that it was too dense and would have an adverse impact on traffic. Nagi appealed the Zoning Board's decision in February 2011, then (according to Attorney Leydon) engaged in "substantial negotiations and settlement efforts" with the City for the next year.
Suddenly, out of the blue (again, according to Attorney Leydon), a would-be interloper named Gurpreet Ahuja filed a motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal "at the eleventh hour" in February 2012! Fortunately, Nagi and the Zoning Board didn't let Gurpreet interfere with their progress; they submitted a proposed settlement agreement to the court in March 2012. That proposal is for 17 condominium units and a day-care for 90 children. (Remember that Nagi's application was for nine apartments and a day-care for 120 children.)
But exactly where did the terms of this "settlement" come from? (Right now, I can almost hear Attorney Leydon bellow, "PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAPLE RIDGE BEHIND THE CURTAIN!!!")
Yes, Dorothy, it's true--you see, during the period of "substantial negotiations and settlement efforts" in Nagi's appeal of his rejected application, Nagi filed a second application for Maple Ridge. That one was even more dense than the first: it proposed 22 apartments and a day-care for 120 children. And herein lies the rub. (I actually discussed the fact that Nagi had filed his second application while his appeal with the Zoning Board was still pending in court--see my "Approve or I Sue!" link in the top banner for details.)
Again, to give you the big picture, I also created this graphical representation :
(With apologies to the toothpaste of almost the same name...)
I just read Elizabeth Kim's 6/23/12 article about our city's latest municipal mystery: Stamford land use chief recants account on legal opinion. If you have been following this website, you may remember Norman Cole, chief of Stamford's Land Use Bureau. (He must have recently been promoted from "Acting" Chief....) Anyway, Norman is the city official who instructed me to list him as the contact for the Zoning Board on my flyers last year, apparently because it was "illegal" for the public to contact Zoning Board members directly. Although I wasn't comfortable with this middle-man approach, I dutifully complied with Norman's request. As you can see from the link above, I listed Norman as the sole contact on all three of my flyers.
You see, in the critical week that preceded the October 24th public hearing on Nagi's project, "someone" happened to send Norman away on a nice one-week vacation! So every one of us who attempted to contact him via email about Nagi's project received only this automated reply:
"I'll be out of the office Monday, October 17th through Monday, October 24th.
You can contact Todd Dumais @email@example.com if you require immediate assistance."
Now, some of us may have taken the time to re-send our emails to Todd Dumais, but I'm sure that not all of us did. And some of us may have left phone messages for Norman, or sent snail-mail letters. Were ALL of these correspondences properly redirected to Mr. Dumais and/or the Zoning Board members? We'll never know.
More recently, Norman radically changed his previous account about how a legal opinion against the Zoning Board's handling of the BLT boatyard controversy came to exist. At first, Norman said that the legal ruling was the end-result of a meeting with Mayor Pavia and other executive staff members. (See Elizabeth Kim's June 2nd article, Legal memo on Harbor Point leads back to Pavia, for more details.)
Well, it looks like Norm forgot to take his Ginkgo Biloba that day, because now he denies that the meeting ever existed! Here's what Elizabeth wrote:
Cole told zoning board members that he had been summoned into a meeting with the mayor, who he said had expressed concerns about the board's "strategy" surrounding BLT's Yale & Towne housing complex. In a later interview, he said Laure Aubuchon, the city's economic development, and members of the law department were also at the meeting.
Cole's version was summarized in a June 3 story in The Advocate that traced the legal opinion back to the mayor's administration.
Cole has now said he "misremembered" the events and that no such meeting about the housing complex ever took place.
Now, I have my own opinion about this case of apparent amnesia, but (in very uncharacteristic fashion, I know) I'm going to defer to a mysterious entity with the pseudonym MeetAtMcCabes, who posted the following tantalizing comment after Elizabeth's 6/23 Advocate article:
Why is Pavia 'summoning' supposedly independent Board members like Mills and supposed independent civil servants like Cole to secretive backroom meetings with BLT lackey Aubuchon and 'members of the city legal department'? (which members? newly minted Pavia mouthpiece and fixer Capalbo?) Was Carl Kuehner there?
Should land use decisions that will effect generations of Stamford residents be made properly in public, subject to FOIA, or rather in secret heavy-handed arm-twisting furniture throwing tantrum prone BLT crony filled meetings on the tenth floor presided over by our dazed and confused 'Mayor', mike 'land grab' Pavia? Sheesh, if I were Cole I would have repressed this memory as well.
Also, remember this gem: "Pavia, a former developer, said he believes mayors in general should be hands-off when it comes to development. "Land use is something I try to steer clear of," he said. "It pretty much makes its own determination and that's the way it should be." [cue laugh trac - ha haa haa haaaa]
Read more: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/The-developer-and-the-mayor-2670913.php#ixzz1ye2t3VG7
Too bad the Stamford Board of Ethics is a mere kangaroo court of Pavia toadies, otherwise the public might have some recourse to stop the outrageous corruption of the land use process. "Stamford, the City that works (for BLT)"
(Perhaps it's time for Norm to take another vacation?)
Terminator: (of Stipulated) Judgment Day!
I received an anonymous email last night, so I CANNOT confirm any of this--at least not yet. But it appears that Nagi's proposed settlement with the Zoning Board was placed on a two-week hold at yesterday's Section 8-8(n) hearing. According to the email, Judge Douglas Mintz has given Attorney Brenden Leydon two weeks to come up with a case where the court approved a settlement that was virtually identical to an approved zoning application that was, in turn, currently under appeal. In other words, Judge Mintz looked at the big picture and realized that approving the settlement of Nagi's previous Maple Ridge application would effectively thwart Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal of Nagi's current Maple Ridge application.
Actually, Judge Mintz has been involved with Nagi's appeal from its beginning. (I could have shown you proof of this, but the state's judicial website is down for maintenance until Monday 6/25.) Judge Mintz's name shows up on virtually every motion and order in Nagi's appeal from 3/23/11 until one year later, when Judge Taggart Adams inexplicably took papers on Gurpreet's motion to intervene on 4/23/12.
Now, Judge Mintz is no stranger to sensitive issues like Nagi's appeal. For instance, he had to suspend Attorney Mickey Sherman's license to practice law when Sherman was sentenced to prison for tax evasion. (Ouch, Mickey!) So I'm sure that, if Brenden Leydon manages to find a case that parallels Nagi's appeal/settlement vs. Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal, Judge Mintz will rule accordingly. And, if not...well, then, Nagi will have to resort to "Plan C." (Or "Plan D." Or perhaps "Plan E." Actually, I think that we might even be up to "Plan F" by now!)
Nagi's Settlement Heads to Court on Friday 6/22!
PM on Friday 6/22/12, there will be a "Section 8-8(n) hearing" at Stamford Superior Court (123 Hoyt Street) on
Nagi's tentative settlement with the Zoning Board. Basically, Connecticut
General Statute 8-8(n) requires a public hearing in court before the judge can
accept Nagi's proposed settlement of his appeal against the Zoning Board. So
let's look at this "settlement" more closely.
As you may recall, Nagi had sued the Zoning Board for rejecting his previous Maple Ridge application in January of 2011. That application was for nine apartments, a day-care for 120 children, and 62 parking spaces. The Zoning Board discussed Nagi's previous application on three separate occasions:
1) at a public hearing on December 6, 2010,
2) at a second public hearing on December 13, 2010,
3) at a meeting on January 10, 2011 (Scroll down to Page 5 here).
As you can see, all of the "usual suspects" were at the December 6th public hearing, although Nagi's traffic engineer at that time was Tighe & Bond's Chris Granatini instead of the all-knowing Joe Balskus. More importantly, Attorney John Leydon (remember John?) revealed at that hearing that Nagi's true priority was the day-care center, not the apartments:
Mrs. Cosentini asked why not propose development of all of the property at the same time. Att. Leydon replied that they were responding to the market demand for child day care and that there was not a strong demand for a new residential building.
The minutes of the December 13th public hearing revealed a huge surprise, at least for me. (Flavia, did you REALLY run a family day-care???) On a more serious note, there was concern among the board members about whether traffic could safely exit Nagi's project without a traffic light at Bradley Place:
Mr. Cole said that his staff report raised the question whether turning movements would be safe without the new signal. Mr. Jonas agreed that turning movements appeared difficult without a traffic signal.
The Board's concern is consistent with the City's traffic report that I quoted in my 6/18/12 update, below. (By the way, if you tried to attend this evening's 7 PM workshop on the traffic study, you were out of luck--the Government Center was evacuated due to a transformer fire. Sorry....)
But back to the Zoning Board meetings: Former Zoning Board chairperson Audrey Cosentini drove the first stake into Nagi's previous application at the January 10, 2011 meeting that followed the public hearings:
Mrs. Cosentini opened the discussion stating that she had voted against the rezoning of the property and continued to be opposed to the extension of commercial development south of the current jewelry store on the corner of Bradley Place. She said that the proposed development seemed to be very intense and that the property should remain residential. She stated that the Board should resist the spread of commercial strip development and that she would like to see a RM-1 residential only development.
Cosentini remarked that RM-1 is a transitional zone and that she would like to
see the property developed like the RM-1 property on the opposite site of High Ridge Road.
Former Zoning Board member David Stein also expressed serious concerns about Nagi's project:
Mr. Stein said that he supported RM-1 to serve as a multifamily transition between commercial and residential properties, but that he was concerned about a child day care use. He said that he was not in favor of commercial use and that the property should only be developed for residential use. He said that he still had concerns that the child day care use would make existing traffic conditions worse and pointed out that the applicant had offered to contribute to the cost of a new traffic light, but had provided only part of the cost and could not guarantee that a light would be installed. He noted that the size and bulk of the building appeared to be out of character with the surrounding area.
Mr. Stein pointed out that there was no assurance that the City would appropriate the rest of the funds needed to install the traffic signal, and that it was important to stop commercial creep down High Ridge Road.
And Zoning Board alternate Kathleen Donahue wasn't very happy with Nagi's project, either:
Mrs. Donahue said that she was concerned if the child day care use was a financial failure, what other uses could be established. She also expressed concern about the safety of traffic movements into and out of the site driveway and capacity of the vehicle drop-off area. She pointed out that no plan had been shown for the vacant Parcel A on the north side of the child day care parcel, and questioned how it would be developed. She concluded by saying that she would prefer that the applicant pay 100% of the cost of the new traffic signal.
Of course, Zoning Board member Harry Parson, Jr. all but gushed over Nagi's project:
Mr. Parson said that traffic did not appear to be an issue and that the developer’s traffic consultant and the City traffic engineer agree. He commented that the project appeared to be well designed and that the architectural design was very attractive. He said that he supported the project and that there was a need for more child day care facilities.
pointed out that the Board was not qualified to make expert traffic judgments
and that the applicant’s traffic engineer had reported that the traffic light
was not needed for the project to function. He said that questions raised about
the methodology used in the traffic report had been addressed and that the
Board can’t act as its own traffic expert. He agreed that the building was
large but was well sited and landscaped. He said that the project would not
result in strip commercial development down to Bulls Head.
And, just as predictably, Zoning Board member Maria Nakian loved it, too:
Mrs. Nakian commented that she didn’t consider day care to be a commercial use, but would classify it as “institutional”. She said that the Zoning Regulations currently allow the ZBA to approve child day care in any residential zone. She pointed out that High Ridge Road is one of the better locations for a child day care facility.
Mrs. Nakian commented that she was very familiar with traffic conditions on High Ridge Road and that the worst area was north of Bradley Place. She said that the child day care use would not add too many additional vehicle trips. She noted that a new traffic light would definitely be helpful and that the City Traffic Engineer had endorsed the project.
Nonetheless, in the end, the vote was 3-2 against Nagi's project:
Mrs. Cosentini called for a motion regarding the child day care special exception application, Appl. 210-19. Mr. Stein moved to disapprove Appl. 210-19, seconded by Mrs. Donahue. The motion carried on a vote of 3 to 2 (Cosentini, Stein and Donahue in favor; Parson and Nakian opposed).
So Nagi appealed the Zoning Board's rejection in court, then submitted a second Maple Ridge application to the Zoning Board while his appeal was pending. This second application (which we are familiar with) was for 22 apartments, a day-care center for 120 children, and 98 parking spaces. (Remember that the Zoning Board rejected Nagi's previous application for 9 apartments, the day-care, and 62 parking spaces due to their concerns about its excessive traffic and density.)
In the end, the Zoning Board approved Nagi's second Maple Ridge application, even though that application was for more housing and more parking spaces than the one that the Board had previously rejected. What changed?
To put it simply, the members of Zoning Board changed.
Audrey Cosentini was ousted from her chair position and replaced by developer-friendly newcomer Thomas Mills. Former member David Stein left the Zoning Board entirely. And Kathleen Donahue, although still an alternate member, was out of the picture during most of the hearings on Nagi's second application. And thus the 3-2 vote against Nagi's previous application became a 3-2 vote for Nagi's current application. (Mills, Nakian, and Parson voted for it, while Cosentini and Michelson voted against it.)
To the Board's minor credit, it did attach 27 conditions to their certification for approval. Take a look at these 27 conditions, and keep in mind that they are for Nagi's second application.
Now, remember that Gurpreet Ahuja appealed the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's current application in court, which effectively stopped construction of Maple Ridge for the duration of her appeal. In an attempt to circumvent Gurpreet's appeal, Nagi is attempting to settle his appeal of the Zoning Board's rejection of his previous application. (You may remember that Gurpreet also filed a motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal to prevent this from happening, but Judge Taggart Adams rejected Gurpreet's motion. So, at this point, unless Gurpreet appeals Judge Adams's decision in Appellate Court, she will be out of the picture for good.)
Any "settlement" in a lawsuit normally involves mutual concessions from both parties--in this case, Nagi and the Zoning Board. If we recall that the Zoning Board had rejected Nagi's initial application for nine apartments, the day-care, and 62 parking spaces because it was too dense, we might expect that a settlement of Nagi's appeal would stipulate, say, eight apartments instead of nine, 50 parking spaces instead of 62, etc. So what does the proposed settlement (also called a judgement on stipulation) contain? Take a look for yourself:
Motion for Judgment on Stipulation
So Nagi's proposed settlement of his appeal contains 17 condo units (vs. nine apartments), a day-care for 90 children, (I believe) 97 parking spaces (vs. 62 spaces)...as well as the 27 conditions that the Zoning Board placed on its approval of Nagi's current application!
(Actually, if you look closely, there are only 20 conditions listed in this stipulation. It appears that someone accidentally omitted Page 9 from the PDF scan of the court document. But the anticipated Judgment, which is attached to the stipulation, does contain all 27 conditions, as you can see.)
So the judge at Friday's hearing is going to need an explanation as to why Nagi's proposed settlement contains 17 dwelling units (when the Zoning Board rejected Nagi's application for only nine units), 97 parking spaces (when the Board rejected Nagi's application for only 62 spaces), etc. Of course, that explanation--namely that the proposed "settlement" actually replicates Nagi's current application, which was approved by the Zoning Board, but which is being appealed by an abutting neighbor, Gurpreet Ahuja--will, in turn, open a HUGE...
(So, if you like to fish, you might want to be in court on Friday....)
High Ridge Road Traffic Gets an "F!"
Example of heavy traffic conditions on High Ridge Road at Vine Road
Nagi's "Early-Bird Special" Zoning Board Meeting!
amazing how reading a court case can lead to a surprising revelation about
Nagi's sphere of influence at the Government
Center. I am referring
here to a special
meeting that the Zoning Board conducted on Thursday, 3/8/12. (Did you
miss it? That's no surprise...you probably couldn't have made it without
leaving work early.)
What was so "special" about this meeting, anyway? Well, for one thing, it was held for the sole purpose of discussing Nagi's pending appeal against the Zoning Board, and so (as you can see from the link above) most of it was conducted in "executive session"--that is, the public was not allowed to be present. But the most "special" thing about this meeting is that it began at 4:30 PM, when nearly everyone in the city was still at work!
How did I stumble upon this unusual event? I was reviewing Attorney Gazin's attachment for One Hundred Nine North LLC v. New Milford Planning Commission when I came across the following passage on Page 2:
"During the appeal, the plaintiff [109 North LLC] entered into settlement discussions with the commission that would involve resolution of this appeal by way of approval of an alternative seventy-two lot subdivision plan. When Mr. Hay learned of the proposed seventy-two lot plan that might be approved pursuant to General Statutes section 8-8(n), he appeared at the meeting of the commission regarding the proposed settlement and urged the commission to reject the proposal and to defend its existing denial on appeal."
I wondered if our Zoning Board had held a similar meeting regarding the proposed settlement of Nagi's appeal. A quick check of the board's website revealed that it did--on March 8th. But, when I saw the time of that meeting, I wondered why it wasn't held at 7:00 PM (as are virtually all Zoning Board meetings). I initially thought that such 4:30 PM meetings might be common practice, so I checked every Zoning-Board agenda so far this year. Not one other meeting was held that early. So I checked every agenda in 2011, but no 4:30 meetings were held last year, either. But what about 2010? Nope...none were held in 2010. Perhaps 2009, then? None... zip... nada. (That was as far back in time as the Zoning Board's online database allowed me to check.)
How many Zoning Board meetings are we talking about here? From January 2009 to date, I counted 114 in all. To be fair, not every other meeting was held at 7:00 PM, but the vast majority were. Only nine meetings (including Nagi's "Early-Bird Special") were not. See for yourself--here are links to their agendas and times:
Thursday 3/08/12 **4:30 PM** (Nagi's)
Monday 6/20/11 5:30 PM
Monday 5/09/11 6:15 PM
Tuesday 2/23/10 7:30 PM
Monday 7/26/10 6:00 PM
Tuesday 8/31/10 7:30 PM
Monday 7/27/09 6:00 PM
Tuesday 8/04/09 7:30 PM
Tuesday 12/22/09 7:30 PM
Why was Nagi's Zoning Board meeting scheduled earlier than every other meeting during the last 3-1/2 years (or possibly much longer)? You'd have to ask the "powers-that-be" in the Government Center. (Perhaps the board members, Mr. Cole, and Attorney Mullin were all hungry and wanted to get home in time for dinner....)
And why would our powers-that-be even concern themselves with zoning issues? Well, they do--at least those in our current administration do. I learned this the hard way when we over-packed the cafeteria at the October 24, 2011 public hearing for Nagi's project. Before that hearing was canceled, the crowd was seeded with a virtual "who's-who" of Mayor Pavia's cabinet: our Board of Finance Chairman, Jerry Bosak, Mayor Pavia's Executive Aide, Lynn Arnow, and our Director of Economic Development, Laure Aubuchon, to name a few.
More recently, Norman Cole--remember Norman?--was summoned to a meeting with Mayor Pavia that included Ms. Aubuchon and members from the law department (but no one from the Zoning Board). In that meeting, Mr. Cole was directed to tell the Zoning Board that they could not delay their decision on BLT's Harbor Point residential complex as a tactic to force BLT to replace the boatyard that they had demolished.
Perhaps that meeting was simply held too early for Zoning Board members to attend--like, say, at 4:30 PM....
Will Gurpreet Appeal Judge Adams' Decision?I just re-read (for the third time) Judge Taggart Adams' Memorandum of Decision re: Motion to Intervene, in which he denied Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board. I noticed that Judge Adams did cite several cases that Attorney Brenden Leydon had also cited and attached to his objection to Gurpreet's motion to intervene. However, Judge Adams did not address even one of the seven cases that Attorney Glenn Gazin attached to support his reply memorandum to Attorney Leydon's objection. I began to wonder if Judge Adams had even read Attorney Gazin's reply--that is, until I started reading it myself. After digesting all *53 pages* of it, I became convinced that, even if Judge Adams did read the 13-page reply itself, I doubt that he actually took the time to read *all* of the 40 pages of supporting cases that follow it.
Was Judge Adams "Shopped?"I was re-reading Judge Taggart Adams' decision to deny Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal, and I had a nagging feeling that I had come across this judge's name before. (Keep in mind that I still have over 100 pages of legal documents to review, scan, and upload to the website for your reading pleasure!) So I started flipping through the pile, and, sure enough, I had seen Judge Adams mentioned before. And, after reading a particular legal document, my first thought was, "WOW--Judge Shopping!"
Court Denies Gurpreet's Motion to Intervene!In a stunning turn of events, yesterday Judge Taggart Adams issued a decision to deny Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal of the Zoning Board's rejection of Nagi's previous Maple Ridge application!
Nagi Pays Past-Due Property TaxesAfter visiting the Town Clerk's office on May 9th, I stopped by the Tax Assessor's office to check the status of the property taxes on Nagi's home at #90 West Bank Lane and Procurement LLC's property at #808 High Ridge Road. You may recall that my 3/8/12 update revealed that the January 1st. property-tax bills for both of these properties had not yet been paid. Fortunately, it appears that this problem was corrected shortly after my 3/8 update.
Did Nagi Flush Sewer-Use Bills?I stopped by the Town Clerk's office on Wednesday to see if People's Bank had extended Nagi's $1.4 million loan for the fourth year in a row since 2008. You may recall that this loan was due to be repaid in full on 5/1/12. However, the loan agreement does contain the following statement:
Ajay Also Appeals!I just checked the state's judicial website for updates on the Nagi's and Gurpreet Ahuja's separate appeals, and it appears that a third appeal has just been filed! On 5/3/12, Attorney Nicholas Ahuja (on behalf of Ahuja Holdings LLC) filed an appeal against the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in Stamford Superior Court. This is most likely in response to the ZBA's denial of Ahuja's plan to build a day-care center across the street from Nagi's jewelry store. (I'll have to head down to court to confirm this, but I'd bet on it.)
Back to the Court Documents (Finally!)Please pardon my two-week-plus delay in updating this website--Flavia Lasalandra actually left a message today asking for any new "development" on the Nagi vs. Ahuja vs. Zoning Board debacle (pardon the pun here).
High Ridge Rd. East: The Other Side of the World?
There's a rumor going around that Nagi may drop his Maple Ridge application and apply (again) for commercial re-zoning of his properties...i.e., "Nagi-Mall." I was poking around the city's website to look for anything to confirm this rumor. (So far, I have found nothing.) But I did come across the minutes of the 3/27/12 meeting of the Planning Board. Buried within is the following discussion of Dr. Ahuja's day-care proposal, which was referred to the Planning Board by the Zoning Board of Appeals. (I have bolded portions for emphasis.)
Zoning Board of Appeals Referrals:
ZBA Appl. 017-12 – Ahuja Holdings, LLC requesting Special Exception approval pursuant to Section 4AA 1.3, to construct a 10,335 s.f. Child Day Care Center for 150 children at 831 & 833 High Ridge Road in a R-10 zoning district. (continued from 3/20/12).
Mr. Quick recused himself and left the table. Mrs. Dell seated both alternates for the voting.
Mr. Dumais summarized the application and need for continuation to this meeting.
Mrs. Dell stated there’s no way this building fits into the neighborhood and to stretch this into such a massive facility is way too much development for this small section of High Ridge Road and cited traffic concerns as raised by the City’s Traffic Engineer and in the applicant’s own report.
Mr. Tepper said this application is clearly in opposition to the direction of the Master Plan and it’s unreasonable to request this type of impact in an R-10 zone. He would more to deny based on opposition to the Master Plan.
Mrs. Fishman questioned the legality of having children under 5 years old on a second floor.
Mr. Williams said he agreed with what the other Board Members has already said.
Mr. Williams moved to deny this application. Mr. Tepper seconded the motion and the motion carried unanimously with the eligible members present voting, 5-0 (Dell, Fishman, Williams, Naumowicz and Tepper).
Mrs. Dell asked that the record reflect the denial and referenced the Traffic Engineer’s referral comments and Land Use Bureau Chief’s (Norman Cole) comments.We must be talking about another PLANET here, instead of a property across the street from Nagi's! The negative comments above are the SAME arguments that hundreds of residents made against Nagi's project before and during the public hearings. Why are these arguments apparently valid for the east side of High Ridge Road, but not for our side? (Yes, I know that Nagi's property had been down-zoned from R-10 to RM-1, but remember that the Vine Meadow condos--which are also on the east side of High Ridge Road--are zoned RM-1, as well.) The Planning Board's comments imply that Ahuja's property is surrounded by bucolic residential tracts--not so.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
finally finished reading 67 pages of legal documents that I had picked up from
Stamford Superior Court a few weeks ago. Please forgive me for this delayed
update, but I'm still wondering how to present the gory details of Nagi's
appeal and Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal without boring you. So, before we dig into
those documents (which I still have to scan to PDF), let's take a step back and
look at the big picture.
The above quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar may well apply to Nagi's situation today. He had purchased most of his "Maple Ridge" properties nearly four years ago, in 2008, apparently with the intention of converting them into a small shopping center--much like "Ridge Plaza" on the corner of High Ridge Road and Bradley Place (north of Nagi Jewelers). Unfortunately for Nagi, the owners of several competing High Ridge shopping centers apparently banded together and hired the law firm Benjamin & Gold to assist them in opposing Nagi's plan.
Nagi (true to the meaning of his Sedulous LLC--that is, "persevering and constant in effort") did not let this setback deter him. After the Planning Board turned down his application for a commercial development in 2009, he returned in 2010 with a plan to build nine apartments over a day-care center. Along the way, Nagi was able to to convert his six single-family (R-10) properties to "multiple family, low density" (RM-1) zoning. (Yeah, we neighbors were asleep at the switch on that one....) And he almost obtained approval from the Zoning Board for his second proposal. But, in January of 2011, the Zoning Board rejected the plan.
At that point, some of us might have simply applied for condo units, like the "Vine Meadow" condos on High Ridge Road at Merriman Road. After all, Nagi now had his multi-family zoning, and there would have been little opposition to condos. But "sedulous" Nagi decided to try his luck a third time. First, he filed a court appeal of the Zoning Board's rejection of his initial "Maple Ridge" project. Then, while that appeal sat dormant, he submitted a third development proposal. This plan--which we are all familiar with--included a second building with another 12 apartment units, as well as a driveway behind the development connecting Bradley Place to Maplewood Place. And this plan--being even more dense than the two that preceded it--finally caused the surrounding neighbors (OK, mostly me, at least in the beginning) to organize against Nagi. That, in turn, led to an overcrowded public hearing, political fallout, and finally, a compromise with Nagi.
On 12/12/11, the Zoning Board approved Nagi's third proposal by a 3-2 vote (as I had predicted). I thought that the fight was over, but on 12/29/11, Nagi's neighbor across the street, Gurpreet Ahuja, appealed the Zoning Board's decision in court. With the prospect of Gurpreet's appeal tying up Nagi's third proposal indefinitely, he wisely switched gears and started working on a settlement of his appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting his second proposal. (Interestingly--as you will soon see--this proposed settlement looks exactly like what the Zoning Board had approved on 12/12/11 for Nagi's third development!)
Apparently Gupreet anticipated Nagi's attempt at an "end run" around her appeal, because she also filed a "motion to intervene" as a co-defendant in Nagi's appeal. If this is granted by the court, it will prevent Nagi from reaching the above settlement with the Zoning Board without Gurpreet's approval, as well.
So Nagi's development is now tied up at both ends in the court system (as my title, " 'Courting' Nagi,"suggests). And the legal documents that I obtained also reveal that Nagi has retained three more attorneys--his brother-in-law, Eliot Gersten, Brenden Leydon (who is Nagi's primary attorney, John Leydon's, brother), and Eliot Gersten's partner, Jared Alfin--to defend against Gurpreet's appeal and her motion to intervene. (Remember that Nagi had also hired Attorney Diane Whitney, as well.) That's a lot of legal fees!
Meanwhile, Nagi had taken out $3.1 million in loans in 2008--$1.4 million from People's Bank and $1.7 million from Connecticut Bank & Trust--to purchase the properties for his development. As you can see, the People's loan is due less than three weeks from today (on 5/1/12), and the CBT loan is due about four weeks later, on 5/31/12. Of course, the banks may elect to extend these loans a fourth time--after all, the loans are generating a combined interest of about $150,000 per year for the banks--but this will be entirely up to them, not Nagi.
So four years have gone by, and Nagi's properties on High Ridge Road look much as they did when he bought them--not a single shovelful of dirt has yet been excavated for Maple Ridge. And, unless the court dismisses Gupreet Ahuja's appeal and denies her motion to intervene, there won't be any excavation in the near future.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men...".
Z.B.A. to Ahuja: NO WAY, Ajay!!!I had intended to fill you in on the latest updates in the Nagi v. Gurpreet Ahuja court cases. But then a new development came up. Or, more precisely, a new development went down...in flames.
The People's Payback?
My last update apparently had some of you wondering if I had thrown in the towel on community activism. Not at all! There is a big difference between compromising on a single battle and losing the entire war. Nagi’s project may eventually become a reality. But (as Bob Dylan once sang) “The Times, They Are-a Changin’.”
proof here, let’s look at the results of our recent primary election for Stamford’s Republican
Town Committee (RTC). Prior to the election, Mayor Pavia’s previously-dormant
PAC (“The Committee for Responsible Stamford Republican Leadership”) sent the
following slick, four-color, 5-1/2" x 11" campaign card to virtually
every registered Republican in the 10 districts shown below. (Interestingly, I
didn’t receive one. But my wife--who uses her maiden name hyphenated with
mine--did. Was my card simply lost in the mail?)
a minute—an election primary for a town committee? What’s going on here?
It turns out that a good number of Stamford’s active Republicans have become disenchanted with our current administration. Kate King of The Advocate covered this issue on 2/11/12 in her article, Stamford GOP strife fuels primaries. Here is an excerpt from that article:
Pavia did not return a call for comment Friday. Tarzia said he believes the Republican Party believes the mayor has not lived up to expectations.
think that there's a lot of disillusioned Republicans who are saying that Mike
Pavia is not who they thought he was," Tarzia said Friday. "On the
town committee I think you have a lot of people who are very upset that after
14 years they have a Republican mayor, but he hasn't brought about any changes
that they can believe in."
OK, so Joe Tarzia is not happy with Mayor Pavia--no surprise here. But let's take a look at who "Joe's people" had put up to run against the candidates shown in the Mayor's political endorsement, above. In the 16th district (where I live...much to Nagi's chagrin), Bob Kolenberg and Heather Gabriele were recruited to run against Chris Munger and Nino Antonelli on the Mayor's team. Here is Kolenberg's and Gabriele's modest campaign card:
for the power of endorsement....)
And thus, political unknown Heather Gabriele actually beat Chris Munger and Nino Antonelli--absolutely astounding! The 18th district saw a similar shake-up, where former RTC chair Kurt Zimbler lost his re-election bid for the RTC. But why did this happen?
Actually, there are a lot of reasons. But, for starters, just take a look at this website. Then check out the recent BLT boatyard controversy and the Sterling Farms fiasco. Or (on a state level) the fight over the parking garage at the Stamford Transportation Center. In short, our government has ignored the will of the people whenever financially lucrative, privately funded projects are involved. But perhaps this trend will be tempered now--as is suggested by the Mayor's withdrawal of his plan to demolish the main house at Sterling Farms.
OK, that’s about it for soapbox politics. My next update will bring us back to our regularly scheduled Nagi programming. On this front, I have been slogging through 14 pages of unpublished court decisions in Westlaw that (deep breath!) Attorney Brenden Leydon attached to his objection to Gurpreet Ahuja’s motion to intervene in Nagi’s appeal of (deep breath!) the Zoning Board’s decision to reject Nagi’s previous Maple Ridge application, which (deep breath!) Brenden’s brother, Attorney John Leydon, had hoped to resolve via an out-of-court settlement with the City’s attorney, John Mullin, which, in turn, (ANOTHER deep breath!) would essentially replicate the ultimately approved version of Nagi’s subsequent application...which Gurpreet Ahuja is appealing in court.
Got all that?
(Click the link above for Stamford's 2002 Master Plan--which should be re-named "Charmin" these days.)
Two days ago, an anonymous individual with the pseudonym "Gooseweasel" posted the following comment after Elizabeth Kim's article on Dr. Ahuja's proposed day-care:
Mr Longo....what is your stance on this????
OK, "Goose"--the bottom line is that I refuse to discuss anything in a public forum with a pseudonym. Now, that being said, I did learn a hard lesson about "fighting city hall" way back on October 24th, when we overwhelmed the Government Center's cafeteria and forced Nagi's public hearing to be suspended. If the hearing had taken place that evening, it was obvious to me that Nagi's project was destined to pass. Why? Because several high-ranking members of Mayor Pavia's administration just "happened" to walk into the cafeteria and sit down there. And I am still fairly certain that one of them was even wearing an "I Support Maple Ridge" button.
Now, I don't know...maybe there were no decent TV programs on that night, so the Mayor's people decided to drive down to the Government Center and drop in on Nagi's hearing instead. But I believe that they were there to send to a message to the Zoning Board. And, during the past few months, this theme has been repeated--at the BLT hearings, at the Sterling Farms hearing, and I'm sure in a host of other venues. In short, it can be summed up as:
"Grow, Stamford, Grow!"
(At any expense....)
Anyway, "Goose," MY opinion on Nagi's proposed housing complex and day-care, or Dr. Ahuja's proposed day-care, or (as Flavia Lasalandra said) "Joe Schmo's" proposed day-care doesn't mean SQUAT. But let's look at Stamford's 2002 Master Plan for guidance instead. This plan took three years, the input of hundreds of residents, dozens of workshops, a large survey, etc. to develop. In other words, it is the result of a HUGE effort.
I happen to have the 50-page summary of the Master Plan, called "Creating a Future for Stamford: Preserve, Protect, Enhance, Improve." (You can pick up a copy at the Land Use Bureau in the Government Center.)
Page 14 of this booklet contains the following statements:
"Directing development downtown is the key to Stamford's growth management policy."
"The ridge roads [i.e., High Ridge and Long Ridge Rd.] along the corporate campuses can accommodate the expansion of businesses that are already there--some of the city's most important employers. But further subdivision for new businesses could undermine the city's smart growth strategies."
Page 30 contains the following statement:
"Stamford residents have a major stake in the stability of their neighborhoods. The fiercest discussions that occurred during discussions about the Master Plan involved land-use conflicts, such as apartment buildings in Cove-East Side and non-residential development in North Stamford."
Page 45 contains the following statement:
There is significant market interest in office and retail development in [Newfield, Turn of River, and Westover] because of the accessibility afforded by the ridge roads and the Merritt Parkway. Significant commercial development should be rejected, though, because it would overwhelm this area and drain energy from downtown. Small infill office and retail development that allows existing campus users to expand, or helps improve the character of road corridors, could be considered." (Color-emphasized text appears in the book.)
Finally, the Newfield, Turn of River, and Westover section of the full Master Plan contains the following statement, which elaborates on the summarized version above:
Traffic conditions along the Ridge Roads (High Ridge Road and Long Ridge Road) are the main source of complaint registered during the Master Plan process in these neighborhoods. Through-traffic is largely channeled to the Ridge Roads, which are able to accommodate the volumes with some nuisances to residents. Left turns onto these roads are often impossible, for example. Due to the lack of east-west through roads, many local roads are forced to handle undue amounts of traffic.
There is significant market support for office and retail development in these neighborhoods, owing to Long Ridge Road’s and High Ridge Road’s tremendous visibility and accessibility, especially proximate to the Merritt Parkway. Significant commercial development would, however, drain energy from Downtown; and it should generally be rejected.
Large amounts of such development could overwhelm the road’s traffic capacity, as well as absorb development better directed to Downtown.
But, hey...the 2002 Master Plan is now 10 years old, and a full revision is in the works. I can't wait to see it. Maybe they will eventually re-name High Ridge Road "High-Rise Road." (Pretty catchy, huh, "Goose?")
On 10/16/11, Angelo Gargagliano wrote a letter to the Zoning Board, which I published at the time under the "Your Email" link on this website. It is called "ZONING BOARD'S 'BAIL-OUT' OF NAGI" and it elaborates on the theme of tonight's update. (Angelo made a lot of great observations in his other missives, as well. If you haven't read them, they are well worth your time. You can also find them under this link.)
As for me, I am no longer going to spend a lot of time "fighting city hall." I will, however, continue to bring you the latest news on Nagi's battle against Dr. Ahuja--and on his race against time. (Nagi's $3.1 million loans come due on May 1st and May 31st. And I'm still waiting to see that his delinquent property taxes have been paid....)
(Click the link above to read Elizabeth Kim's 3/19/12 Advocate article about Dr. Ajay Ahuja's day-care plan.)
Wow! Just when I thought I knew all about Nagi's project (and the appeals), a NEW twist pops up! Actually, Elizabeth Kim told me about Dr. Ajay Ahuja's application a week ago, but (out of courtesy to her) I waited until her article appeared before I published it here. There are also references to Ahuja's application in the multitude of court documents that I copied last week. (I'll have a lot more to say about these in the near future...)
While reading Elizabeth's article during breakfast this morning, I laughed so hard about Flavia Lasalandra's comment that I almost choked on my English muffin! (Thanks, Flavia, for the comic relief--we need it!)
Elizabeth's article mentions that Ajay and Gurpreet Ahuja are apparently divorced. I re-checked the Ahujas' property assessments on High Ridge Road, and I could not find any that were owned jointly by both of them. I'll have to dig through public records to find out when the divorce took place. (If it was awhile ago, it might be tough to argue that Gurpreet Ahuja is appealing Nagi's project simply for competitive reasons, since she would appear to have no financial connection with her ex-husband.) This places another interesting twist on the appeal.
Elizabeth also stated that there are 60 day-care centers in Stamford. I checked the State of Connecticut's eLicensing website, and this is apparently true. Starting from the website, I used the "Child Day Care Centers and Group Day Care Homes Opened - 1 Year (No Fee Required)" link (under the "Child Day Care Licensing Program" link) to generate an Excel spreadsheet for the entire state. I then deleted every licensed day-care center except for those in Stamford. I have uploaded the resulting Excel spreadsheet here -- note that it is sorted by zip code, then by name within each zip.
In the "Nick" of Time?
I just returned from Stamford Superior Court with 67 pages (!!!) of legal updates related to Nagi's appeal and Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal. I'll need time to digest all of them, but let's start with the biggest news first:
In an apparently brilliant legal maneuver, Attorney John Leydon is attempting an "end-run" around Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal of the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's current application for Maple Ridge!
On March 12th, Attorney Leydon and Stamford's Assistant Corporation Counsel, Attorney John Mullin, jointly filed a " Motion for Judgment in Accordance with Stipulation" in Superior Court. As you can see from the following link, the "Stipulation for Judgment" is actually a 10-page agreement between Procurement LLC (i.e., Nagi) and the Zoning Board. In this agreement, Nagi agrees to withdraw his appeal of the Zoning Board's 1/10/11 rejection of Nagi's PREVIOUS application. In exchange, the Zoning Board agrees to accept the terms of Nagi's CURRENT application--as modified by our compromise and the Zoning Board's 27 conditions! (In other words, the Zoning Board agrees to accept the same plan that they ultimately voted to accept on 12/12/11.)
It sounds like a win-win for everyone, right? Let's see....
Nagi's previous application contained one building instead of two, nine (or 10?) apartments instead of 22 (this was later changed to 17 condos as part of our compromise), a day-care for 120 children (this was later reduced to 90 children by the Zoning Board), and no driveway between Maplewood and Bradley Place. The Zoning Board had rejected Nagi's previous application due to their concern about increased traffic that the day-care would generate and concerns about Nagi's plans for 826 High Ridge Road (the empty parcel of land next to his jewelry store--this parcel was later used for the second building in Nagi's subsequent application).
For more details, check out Elizabeth Kim's 1/12/11 article, "Board rejects plan for housing and day-care on High Ridge". Note that Nagi immediately appealed the Zoning Board's decision in court, and that appeal has basically been inactive for over a year...until now.
I recall that, when the Zoning Board finally voted to approve Nagi's current application in December, they asked if Nagi would drop his appeal of his rejected application 21 days after the board's vote. (This would have been safely beyond the time limit for an appeal of the approval--i.e. 15 days after the public notice of the Zoning Board's decision appeared in the Advocate on 12/16/11.) However, when Gurpreet Ahuja appealed the Zoning Board's decision on 12/29/11, John Leydon wisely decided to leave Nagi's dormant appeal in play.
Speaking of Gurpreet Ahuja--where would the "stipulation for judgment" between Nagi and the Zoning Board leave HER? Remember that Gurpreet appealed the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's CURRENT application for two reasons: 1) the Zoning Board apparently failed to provide adequate notice for two of the four public hearings, and 2) the plan that the Zoning Board approved contained material changes (i.e., 17 condo units instead of 22 apartments, and no driveway between Maplewood and Bradley Place), which apparently should have been presented in a new application (with a new traffic study, new notices, new public hearings, etc.).
If the "stipulation for judgment" is approved by the court, Nagi would receive, as a result of his APPEAL of his REJECTED application, exactly what the Zoning Board later APPROVED in Nagi's subsequent application. And Gurpreet's appeal of Nagi's subsequent application would be rendered moot, since Nagi could then withdraw that entire application.
Ah, but Attorney Glenn Gazin (or perhaps Attorney "Nick-of-Time" Ahuja?) apparently anticipated this possibility! In fact, it is stated in Gurpreet's motion to intervene as a co-defendant in Nagi's appeal. To quote Item 10 on Page 5 of Gurpreet's motion (which was filed "just in the nick of time," on 2/22/12):
"The approval of the plans for development of Procurement, LLC is at the crux of both appeals. It is inherently inequitable for Ms. Ahuja to be denied the status of a full-fledged party in one of the two pending appeals. Exclusion from party status leaves her cause vulnerable by way of a settlement between the parties in the first appeal that would have the constructive effect of rendering the second appeal moot."
Nagi hires another law firm!
(Sorry for my delay in updating the website...I''ve been under the weather since last Friday.)
In a surprising turn of events, Nagi has retained yet another law firm: Tooher Wocl & Leydon LLC! On 3/8/12, Tooher Wocl & Leydon filed an objection to Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board. As you can see from Tooher Wocl & Leydon's web site, the firm specializes in personal injury cases, not land-use issues. So why would Nagi hire this firm to fight Ahuja's motion?
This business card shows that the firm was formerly "Tooher & Wocl, LLC"--until Attorney Brenden Leydon came on board. I had spoken about Brenden in my 2/3/12 update ("Nagi Fights Back!") and my 1/1/12 update ("Happy New Year!!!"). If you live in Greenwich, you probably know all about Brenden's past success in forcing the town to open its beaches to the public. Brenden also happens to be Attorney John Leydon's brother. I would, therefore, bet that Brenden's name is at the bottom of the objection that was filed on March 8th.
Attorney Ahuja is now battling a "Legal Hydra"--as soon as he deals with one of Nagi's attorneys, two more pop up, sort of like this:
For the record, below are the attorneys involved in Nagi's and Gurpreet Ahuja's separate appeals. (There may be even more, but I haven't been able to get to court for copies of the various motions and objections on file.)
Atty. John Leydon: Hired by Nagi to present his development application to the Zoning Board. John Leydon is also handling Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board for rejecting Nagi's previous application.
Atty. John Mullin: Stamford's corporate counsel, charged with defending the Z.B. against Nagi's appeal.
Atty. Diane Whitney: Hired by Nagi (via Pullman & Comley LLC) to file a motion to dismiss Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal against the Zoning Board for approving Nagi's second application.
Atty. Brenden Leydon: Hired by Nagi (via Tooher Wocl & Leydon LLC) to object to Gurpreet Ahuja's motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board.
Atty. Nicholas Ahuja: Hired by Gurpreet Ahuja (his mother) to appeal the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's second application.
Atty. Glenn Gazin: Hired by Gurpreet Ahuja to file a motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal of the Zoning Board's rejection of Nagi's first application.
P.S.--Coincidentally, Tooher Wocl & Leydon filed Nagi's 3/8/12 objection exactly one year, one month, and one day after Attorney John Leydon filed Nagi's 2/7/11 appeal. My amusing neighbor probably views this coincidence as numerological proof of Nagi's stone-dealing powers. But it merely shows how much time these appeals take to wind through the court system.
P.P.S.--I checked the city's tax assessment site again this evening. As of 3/8/12, the property taxes for 90 West Bank Lane and 808 High Ridge Road had still not been paid. The total tax due on both properties is $8,482.02. Most attorneys demand a retainer of $7,500 to take on a case. Perhaps this is also a coincidence...or perhaps not. (Feeding a "Legal Hydra" can be expensive!) Only time will tell if this strategy will pay off for Nagi.
Nagi, please pay your property taxes!
(I need the money...)
Jerry Bosak: "I didn't do it!!!"
On Sunday, the chair of the Republican Town Committee sent the following email to this website:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Today's Advocate Article
From: Stamford RTC <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sun, March 04, 2012 7:55 pm
Sunday, March 4th, 2012 - 1:50 PM
To the RTC and fellow Republicans,
This morning I received a phone call from Board of Finance member Jerry Bosak. He was extremely upset that Dan McCabe used his name in today's front page Advocate story regarding the RTC primaries. McCabe was quoted in the article stating that Bosak had contributed to McCabe's Political Action Committee ("PAC"), a PAC that has endorsed a certain specific slate of RTC candidates. Bosak said that he never contributed to the PAC, McCabe hadn't called him, and he was going to call Kate King (who reported the story) and tell her that he never contributed.
Less than two hours later, former Corporation Counsel Michael Larobina called me and told me the exact same thing. Michael was also upset that his name was used by McCabe in the newspaper article. Michael told me that he had also not been called or even knew about McCabe's PAC, and when I told him that I would be sending out an RTC/Republican email, he said to please explain that he also did not contribute to the PAC, and was very upset that his name was used by McCabe in the Advocate article.
The false representations used in today's Advocate have led to further dissension in our Republican Party. I for myself, and as the RTC Chairman, will no longer tolerate this kind of misinformation from anyone, and neither will the RTC as a whole.
Jerry C. Pia
Upon reading this email, I had one of those "deja-vu-all-over-again" moments! Some of you will recall that Jerry Bosak had also vehemently denied that he walked into Nagi's October 24th public hearing wearing one of Nagi's "I Support Maple Ridge" buttons on his lapel. (See my "Button-Gate" updates on 11/02/11 and 11/03/11 under the "Rowdy Days!" tab for details.) It seems that there may be an impostor slinking around Stamford and committing atrocious acts to get the real Jerry Bosak embroiled in controversy!
I can't tell you if Jerry really pledged several hundred dollars to Dan McCabe's PAC, as stated in the initial Advocate article, or if he did not, as stated on the Advocate's update that was published late last night. The truth may eventually come out in the PAC's donor list (although I'm sure that, if Jerry had pledged to contribute to this PAC, it's never going to happen now).
What I CAN tell you is that Jerry DID contribute to Scott Mirkin's Board-of-Finance campaign last year, and that there is apparently an indirect connection between Mirkin's campaign and McCabe's PAC. Let's see how:
Here is the third-quarter donor list for Mirkin's campaign. Scroll down to Page 4 of this PDF file. Jerry's $250 contribution appears at the bottom of the vertical page labeled "Page 1 of 16" under "Bosak, Jr., Gerald R." (Sorry about the vertical orientation here--the donor list is meant to be printed in landscape format.) As the Advocate's initial article states, Dan McCabe's PAC "is generally looking to bolster primary candidates who supported former Board of Finance candidate Scott Mirkin's campaign."
So Jerry Bosak contributed $250 to Scott Mirkin's campaign, and Dan McCabe's PAC was formed to support candidates who supported Mirkin (and, by extension, Mayor Pavia). Does this logically imply that Jerry may have also pledged to support McCabe's PAC? I'll leave this to you, the reader, to decide.
03/04/12 Update:(Click the link above to see Gurpreet Ahuja's 2/22/12 motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal.)
Gurpreet Turns Up the Heat!I just checked the state's judicial website for any updates on Nagi's appeal against the Zoning Board, and it turns out that the mysterious person who filed a motion to intervene in Nagi's appeal is none other than Gurpreet Ahuja! To make matters even more confusing, Attorney Nicholas Ahuja is NOT representing Gurpreet here--another attorney named Glenn Allan Gazin is handling the case instead!
Court: Take Your Time, Nick!As I had surmised in my 2/17/12 update ("Nagi: No Way, Nick!"), on 2/23/12 the court granted the 30-day motion for extension of time that Attorney Nicholas Ahuja had requested on 2/14/12. Here is the court order, which extends the hearing date for Nagi's motion to dismiss the Ahuja appeal to 3/19/12.
Click on the link above to read Elizabeth Kim's 2/24/12 feature article about Nagi's attorney, John Leydon. (Well, OK, one of Nagi's attorneys...at least for now....) Obviously, Nagi's project is a big part of this article.
There is no doubt that Nagi's application boosted John Leydon's name recognition here in Stamford. (I'm sure that John's bank account isn't doing too badly, either!) Nagi's project is now benefiting Attorney Nicholas Ahuja in similar fashion...I'll have more to say about the Ahuja appeal, hopefully by the weekend. (Hint: There are new case entries in Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal against the Zoning Board.)
I still don't know why Nagi chose to have Pullman & Comley represent him in the Ahuja appeal instead of Attorney Leydon, since clearly no one is more familiar with Nagi's application than John. (This was painfully apparent when Attorney Whitney's motion to dismiss the Ahuja appeal contained several basic errors about Nagi's application--see my 2/12/12 update below for details.)
I have to agree with Elizabeth Kim's assessment of John Leydon. Unlike some attorneys, I found John to be a pretty decent guy. When we first began our week of hammering out a compromise between me and Nagi, John cringed when he said that the only item that was not negotiable was Nagi's proposed day-care facility. I appreciated John's candor, since it was clear that he was not very comfortable with presenting that news to me.
I should mention that Nagi was never present at any of these meetings, nor did I ever speak with Nagi. John served as the sole intermediary between what he must have seen as an irresistible force (Nagi) and an immovable object (me). Despite being in the middle of that mess, John never lost his composure or his quiet, modest approach. When I complained about the potential traffic issue, John apparently could have retorted with, "You don't know what you're talking about--I stood out on High Ridge Road and counted cars there myself!" (Prior to reading Elizabeth's article, I never realized that John had done this.) But he never even mentioned it.
I have heard that some people believe that Nagi must have "paid me off" to stop fighting him, but that's simply not true. It was John Leydon's diplomacy that did it. Whether or not my compromise with Nagi will even make a difference in the outcome of his project is still an open question. The ultimate outcome of the Ahuja appeal will determine the answer here.
P.S.--Nagi's project also made the news in a 2/23/12 Advocate article by Kate King:
City reps show little enthusiasm for putting land use boards on camera
Here's the relevant excerpt from Kate's article:
"It's out of a commitment to having more open and transparent government," Uva said. "The land-use departments -- the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the ZBA -- have a lot of issues and make a lot of decisions that have significant impacts on our city at-large and in particular neighborhoods."
The Planning Board handles all capital budget decisions. Uva said she believes Stamford residents would benefit from being able to see the board's hearings online. Audio and video recordings of the land-use boards would also give the public the opportunity to view discussions on controversial issues such as the future of the South End boatyard, the Nagi development on High Ridge Road and the proposed demolition of the historic farmhouse at Sterling Farms golf course, she said.So "the Nagi development" is apparently part of the trifecta of Stamford's most controversial projects. (I have mentioned the other two projects below--see the 2/5/12 update, "Black eye" and the 2/19/12 update, "Developers, Demolition, and Dollars" for details.)
Developers, Demolition, and Dollars
Let's give Nagi a break tonight. (After all, in the last two days, he has racked up another $800 in interest charges on his project!) The topic below is actually relevant to us in the Mid-Ridges and to the city as a whole.
The Zoning Board's ultimate approval of Nagi's project is a symptom of a bigger problem: our Mayor's strong support of development has had dollar signs dancing in the eyes of contractors, engineers, surveyors, attorneys, etc. both far and wide. And no property, regardless of historical importance, is beyond their reach.
A case in point: I received an email from Renee Kahn of the Historic Neighborhood Preservation Program, Inc. (HNPP) regarding the planned demolition of the main house at Sterling Farms Golf Course on Newfield Ave. This building is on the State Register of Historic Places, and our Mayor actually wants to knock it down! (Here is the application with photos that put Sterling Farms "on the map." And here are more beautiful photos of the property in Part 2 of the application.)
To make matters worse, the City of Stamford had officially committed to the federal National Park Service to act as a "CLG" (Certified Local Government) for historic preservation! On 2/6/12, Mayor Pavia and Norman Cole received this letter from the State Historic Preservation Office. It states that the demolition of the main house at Sterling Farms would be "inconsistent with the town's official commitment to preservation planning policies." You can read more about Stamford's CLG status in these notes of a 12/21/11 meeting between the Stamford Golf Authority (current steward of the property) and the HNPP. Yesterday, Elizabeth Kim of the Advocate penned a fine article about the issue:
Planning Board to review Sterling Farms demolition plan.
The following excerpt from the article supports my assertion:
Pavia, who has prided himself on historic preservation opportunities as a developer, has not publicly stated his opinion on the plan, but his administration opposed efforts to designate the building as historic. In August he sent a memo to the Planning Board asking its members to take up the lease extension and demolition request.
Calls to the mayor last week for comment were not returned.(I'm sure that the Mayor's stance on demolition couldn't have anything to do with a potential tenant's offer to donate $1 million toward the construction cost of a new building....)
Nagi: No Way, Nick!Welcome back to your "one-stop shop" for all things Nagi except his jewelry...you'll have to visit Nagi Jewelers for that. (If you happen to see Chris Brecciano there, please give him my regards....)
Ahuja to Court: Gimme Time!
Nagi to Court: Toss Ahuja Appeal!
(Click the link above, then scroll all the way down for Doreen Pezza Finn's 2/1/12 letter to the Advocate.)
I don't know Doreen, but I agree with her--the approval rating of Stamford's government must be in the pits. In December, the Zoning Board rubber-stamped Nagi's project despite more public opposition than anyone can remember. But this is not the only reason why citizens are upset with our city's way of conducting business.
Right now, there is a huge public outcry over Building and Land Technology's (a.k.a. BLT's) demolition of Yacht Haven West...in apparent violation of their prior agreement with the Zoning Board. Stamford resident Maureen Boylan organized a citizen's group named Save Our Boatyard (a.k.a. SOB...yeah, I know...) to pressure BLT into keeping its promise for a working boatyard in their new Harbor Point development.
Regarding the planned construction of Nagi's development: you may remember that local resident John Lanseidel (owner of John Lanseidel Construction) spoke in support of Nagi's project at the public hearings. (Perhaps Nagi promised John construction work on Maple Ridge in a "quid-pro-quo" arrangement...we'll eventually know.)
Ironically, though, many construction contracts in Stamford are being awarded to out-of-state companies that under-bid our local contractors. How? Angela Carella of the Advocate just wrote an article (Labor officials target flat-out 'fraud') on this practice. As she said, these unscrupulous companies "pay substandard wages; use unlicensed workers; fail to pay income taxes, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance; ignore safety laws; exploit undocumented workers; and classify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying workers' compensation insurance." (Good luck on that contract, John....)
And, for a final "black eye," we have the city's refusal to pay 16th District representative Sal Gabriele's $200,000 legal fees after Sal uncovered apparent corruption and waste here. In a new development, a state hearing officer agreed with Sal's claim that the Board of Representatives' back-room meetings may violate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This development may very well affect how all city boards (including the Zoning Board) conduct their business in the future. (Wouldn't you liked to have been a fly on the wall when the Zoning Board cooked up the 27 conditions for its approval of Nagi's project?)
Meanwhile, Nagi's Procurement appeal against the city and Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal against Nagi are slowly grinding their way through the courts. I'll be keeping an eye on both.....
Nagi Fights Back!
It took only a day to learn of Nagi's response to the Ahuja appeal. He has apparently retained Pullman & Comley LLC (the law firm that spawned such legal/political luminaries as Connecticut's General Counsel, Andrew J. McDonald) to fight the appeal. As you can see from the "Ahuja appeal" link, Pullman & Comley e-filed an appearance for Nagi only yesterday.
But why did Nagi choose Pullman & Comley, a law firm based in Hartford? Well, the world is smaller that you think: it turns out that one of the firm's attorneys, Eliot Gersten, happens to be Nagi's wife's, Liz Osta's, brother!!! (Gurpreet Ahuja is not the only person who has an attorney in her family....) One look at Eliot's and Liz's respective photos will confirm their shared genes, but, if you want more proof, check out their late father's, Charles Gersten's, 2006 obituary. (As an aside, Mr. Gersten appears to have been quite a legal and political heavy-hitter himself.) Now, I doubt that Eliot Gersten will personally defend Nagi against the appeal, but perhaps he will assist with the case. Or maybe Nagi will receive a reduced hourly rate from Pullman & Comley. (After all that Nagi has spent so far, I'm sure that he would welcome such a break!)
And so Attorney Ahuja has become David to Nagi's Goliath. Will Pullman & Comley's legal-eagles find a loophole to counter Attorney Ahuja's appeal? Or will Attorney Ahuja follow the inspiration of Attorney Brenden Leydon, who single-handedly defeated Greenwich's top legal minds to open the town's beaches to the public?
And what about Brenden's brother, Attorney John Leydon, who faithfully represented Nagi through all of the uproar generated by his project? Perhaps Nagi now needs an attorney who specializes in land-use appeals...I honestly don't know. (However, it appears that John is still representing Nagi in his appeal against the Zoning Board.) I'd like to call John and ask him, but (being the professional that he is) I'm sure that he can't discuss the case with me.
To quote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, all of this has become "curiouser and curiouser!" Stay tuned.....
(Apparently NOT in court -- at least not for the Ahuja appeal....)
Happy February, everyone! We certainly can't complain about the wonderful weather that we have had this winter! (It looks like all those snowbirds went to Florida for nothing.) Ah, but February and March still await us....
As for Nagi's project, the second half of January was actually notable for what did NOT happen: Attorney John Leydon apparently did NOT appear in Superior Court to respond to Gurpreet Ahuja's appeal (which was served on Nagi and the Zoning Board on December 29th, 2011). As you can see from the link above, the Zoning Board DID respond to Ahuja's appeal on January 30th, so they are now in a position to contest the appeal. But I believe that Nagi and/or John Leydon have only a few more days to file an appearance in court. Could Nagi be too busy? Is he sick? Is he out of the country?
Apparently not...I just checked the status of NAGI's appeal against the Zoning Board. (You may recall that, on 2/7/11, Nagi sued the Zoning Board's for rejecting his PREVIOUS application for Maple Ridge. That application had 12 fewer housing units and lacked the driveway between Bradley Place and Maplewood Place.) As you can see from the link, it appears that a conference between Nagi and the Zoning Board did take place on January 26th, as scheduled. As a result, a court order was issued for a pre-trial hearing on February 22nd and a plaintiff's (i.e., Nagi's) brief on March 20th. A second court order was issued for a plaintiff's reply brief (if needed) on May 18th. So--despite Zoning Board member Barry Michelson's request that Nagi drop his appeal after board approved his application--Nagi's suit against the Zoning Board continues to work its way through the courts. But why isn't Nagi responding to Ahuja's appeal against him?
Remember that the Ahuja appeal has two parts: (1) lack of proper notification for two of the four public hearings, and (2) a material change in the application that was approved vs. the application that was filed. Both are technical arguments that, if sustained by evidence, could be difficult to refute. But, if Nagi does not file a timely "appearance" in response to Ahuja's appeal, the court can enter a default judgment against Nagi (i.e., he would automatically lose the appeal by not fighting it).
And what about the strange relationship between the players in Nagi's appeal vs. Ahuja's appeal? In Nagi's appeal, he is suing the Zoning Board--i.e., the board is his "enemy" in the suit. But, in Ahuja's appeal, both Nagi and the Zoning Board stand together as defendants! (Talk about strange bedfellows....) What happens if Nagi defaults on Ahuja's appeal but the Zoning Board fights it? What happens if Attorney Leydon and Attorney Ahuja reach a settlement, but the Zoning Board does not? The possibilities here make my head spin.
And what about Nagi's $1,443,750 loan and mortgage with People's United Bank (due on May 1, 2012) and his $1,700,000 open-end mortgage with Connecticut Bank & Trust (due on May 31, 2012)? Both of these have been extended three times since they were initially granted in 2008. Will the banks extend them a fourth time? Are the banks even aware that Nagi's project is (once again) in limbo? Even if the loans are extended for another year, how long can Nagi continue to pay their whopping interest charges? Stay tuned.....
Nagi Keeps His End of the Bargain
I just received a call from Nagi's attorney, John Leydon. (I had left a message for John asking if Attorney Ahuja's appeal negated the terms our compromise.) John assured me that Nagi wishes (via Procurement, LLC) to uphold his end of our compromise as long as the Maple Ridge application exists as approved by the Zoning Board on 12/16/11. In other words, Nagi will build 17 condos instead of 22 apartments and will not allow traffic onto Bradley Place (unless a traffic light is installed here, as per the condition imposed by the Zoning Board). John also said that Nagi still wants to pay for a turning lane on Bradley Place (which was not part of our compromise, but was another condition of the approval).
As I said before, one concern with an appeal is that the court can reverse some or all of the 27 conditions that the Zoning Board imposed on Nagi in response to our concerns. A precedent here is Bartram v. Zoning Commission of City of Bridgeport. In this 1949 case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the Zoning Board acted properly by approving an applicant's request to change a residential parcel to commercial--despite vehement protests and an appeal by the neighbors. It's easy for us to cry injustice at this case. But a zoning board must consider private-property rights along with community concerns in their decisions. This doesn't mean that the Zoning Board would allow a strip bar on High Ridge Road, but it may mean that they can (must?) allow multi-family housing and a day-care center, as they did for Nagi's project.
So we just have to wait and see what happens next. Who knows? Maybe Nagi's project will become the basis for a future Connecticut Supreme Court decision....
(Click the link above to see Zillow's rental info on Nagi's house at 808 High Ridge Road.)
Welcome to "Nagi-Land," where you can rent a 1,692-sq-ft, four-bedroom Stamford home for only $1,000 per month with NO security deposit or other fees. This gem is on 2/10th of an acre, and it includes a fenced-in back yard. It is a classic home, built in 1780 during the American Revolution, and it sold in 2009 for $660,000. (OUCH, Nagi!!!) It's only been on the market for seven days, so you'd better hurry if you want to rent it...on a month-to-month basis (although, if Attorney Ahuja gets his way, you might be able to stay there for quite awhile).
But what's much more interesting about this rental is its listing agent: Eva Preuss. As you can see from the link, Eva is also the rental agent for Nagi's property at 812 High Ridge Road (although that property is listed at $1,900 per month, which is at least in the ballpark for Mid-Ridges home rentals).
Those of you who attended the public hearings on Nagi's project might remember Eva: she is the statuesque brunette who spoke strongly in support of Nagi's project, despite the fact that she lived (as she put it) "downtown." Here is her comment from the minutes of the public hearing on October 6, 2011:
Eva Preuss, 1258 Bedford Street, spoke in favor and said that the demand for rental housing was strong with an average time of 30 days for rental units to lease. She said that the project would increase the value of surrounding properties.
And here is Eva's previous comment from the minutes of the Planning Board hearing on May 25, 2010:
Eva Proyce, Residential Real estate agent said the site is in need of development and the plans are amazing.
(Yes, I know that the board secretary massacred Eva's last name here. But you get the idea....)
After finding out that Eva was involved in real estate, didn't you just KNOW that she would become the listing agent for Nagi's properties? (Actually, Eva was probably Nagi's rental agent all along, but no one was paying attention to her until only a few months ago. Welcome to the spotlight, Eva.)
And so, like Ted Sierpina, Eva Preuss is, to put it bluntly, one of Nagi's paid shills. And more are bound to surface.....
(Click the link above to read Elizabeth Kim's 1/4/12 Advocate article on the appeal against Nagi's project.)
Once again, Elizabeth Kim has penned a concise follow-up article on the current state of Nagi's project. She did a wonderful job summarizing the many events leading up the appeal, as well as contents of the appeal itself. (BTW, I appreciate the fact that Elizabeth referred to me simply as "one homeowner" in this article. I have been pretty embarrassed when people on the street ask me, "Hey, aren't you the guy who...?" Of course, I have only myself to blame here.)
Speaking of public relations: it appears that Attorney Ahuja has no intent of letting P.R. considerations interfere with his legal strategy, whatever it may be. According to the article, he did not return several phone messages requesting comment. This is consistent with his attitude during the public hearings--he has been keeping his cards very close to his chest in his poker game (or perhaps chess game?) with Nagi. Perhaps he learned from Nagi's unfortunate experience that mixing legal affairs with public relations has its hazards.
A reply to a comment about the article from a very prolific Advocate reader with the pseudonym of "Publius" is revealing. He wrote the following:
"But the proposal might have gone through more easily with just the residential development. A good part of the objections from neighbors was the "double dipping", changing to a multiple-family zone and then adding an institutional use on top of it."
I have to agree with Publius here. Although a few neighbors will not be satisfied with anything more dense than five new houses on Nagi's site, I would have been OK with a condo development like Vine Meadow (and I have said this many times). And even a day-care center alone would not have caused the furor that Nagi's combination of housing and day-care did. Remember that Nagi had even applied for a "bonus density" of five more apartment units (which he later voluntarily withdrew as part of our compromise). So it was pretty clear to me that Nagi wanted to maximize the return on his ever-increasing investment costs. (At this point, I'm not sure that even a high-rise apartment building will accomplish this!)
Elizabeth Kim pointed out that Dr. Ajay Ahuja had submitted, then immediately withdrawn, an application for a day-care center last year. Considering the intense opposition to Nagi's project at that time, this was probably a wise move on Dr. Ahuja's part. How it figures into the appeal (if at all) is still a mystery, though. I checked the Superior Court's website for the appeal, but apparently it has not even been filed yet. (Could this delay be a legal tactic of some sort?)
So Attorney Ahuja has a tiger by the tail. Does he intend to "kill the tiger?" (i.e., if the banks refuse to extend Nagi's loans and/or provide additional financing, his entire project may be in jeopardy). Or does Attorney Ahuja just want to "hold the tiger down" by using the appeal as some sort of bargaining chip? At this point, we just don't know.
One thing is for certain, though: with just a few pages of legal prose, Attorney Ahuja seems to have accomplished what hundreds of residents, emails, letters, signs, posters, buttons, petitions and a website were not able to do:
"Stop Nagi's Housing Project!"
(at least for now).
Nagi's ($$$) "Noose"
What’s the big deal regarding the court appeal of Nagi’s project, anyway? After all, he has been trying to develop his properties for almost four years now, beginning with his failed proposal for a retail center and eventually morphing into his proposal for an apartment complex and day-care center with 98 parking spaces. So who cares about a delay of another year while the appeal works its way through court?
My earlier analysis of Nagi’s property “procurements” for his development showed that the first property was purchased in 2001 with his store. Three more were purchased in 2008, one in 2009, and one in 2011. The total purchase cost of these properties was about $3.6 million. But where did all that money come from?
Of course, no one except Nagi really knows for sure. But what we do know is that Nagi is currently on the hook for about $3.1 million in bank loans that have been extended three times during the past 3-1/2 years.
I have copies of both loan modification agreements, but I’m not going to post them here (even though they are a matter of public record). If you really want the gory details, simply go to the Town Clerk’s Office at the Government Center and use their computer to search for documents containing the word “Procurement” (i.e., the name of one of Nagi’s LLC’s). You will instantly pull up a couple of dozen intriguing documents, including the loan modification agreements outlined below.
On or about April 27, 2008, Nagi borrowed (under Procurement LLC) $1,443,750.00 from People's United Bank. This loan was modified on June 4, 2008 and (at Nagi's request) modified again on August 23, 2010 so that its maturity date is now extended to May 1, 2012, at which point the loan becomes fully payable. According to the modification agreement, if Nagi "can demonstrate to Lender's satisfaction that [he] is actively and diligently pursuing development approvals for [his] proposed development of the property described in the Mortgage, Lender may agree to further extend the maturity date from May 1, 2012 to May 1, 2013." The interest rate of this loan currently has a floor of 4% per annum.
On May 27, 2008, Nagi borrowed (under Sedulous LLC and Procurement LLC) $1,700,000 from Connecticut Bank and Trust Company. This loan was modified on June 26, 2009 and modified again on June 26, 2010. On May 31, 2011, it was modified a third time to further extend its maturity date to May 31, 2012. Also at that time, the interest rate of this loan was reduced to 5.5% per annum.
The Bottom Line
Without even taking interest compounding into account, Nagi is paying over $57,750 on the first loan and $93,500 on the second loan—or over $151,250 per year. This is almost surely more than the money that he collects from his five rental properties on the site.
More importantly, unless both banks agree to grant Nagi yet another modification on his loans, he has to come up with $3,143,750 in May...less than five months from now.
Think about it: Nagi has paid out millions of dollars for his properties, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars to architects, surveyors, traffic engineers, land-use firms, etc. (and let’s not forget his attorney!). His first two development proposals were shot down, and his latest proposal is now being appealed in court. So, despite the expenditure of millions of dollars and almost four years of his life, he hasn’t even broken ground yet. Will the banks extend his loans again? Does he have a backup source of funds in the event that they don’t? And can he obtain additional (and very substantial) funds to actually build his project from the ground up? We will be waiting in suspense for these answers.
A Minor Footnote
If you have been keeping up with this website, you might remember the mysterious signature page that appeared in my 12/11/11 update, in which Ted Sierpina had witnessed every signature. That page is part of the loan modification agreement from Connecticut Bank & Trust described above, so the mystery behind it has finally been revealed.
Again, you may remember that Ted spoke in support of Nagi's project at each of the public hearings, as well as at the previous hearings for Nagi's successful 2010 bid to change the zoning for his properties from single-family (R-10) to multiple-family low density (RM-1). Ted has disclosed to the Zoning Board that he lives on Little Hill Drive behind the Harry Bennett Library. But what he has repeatedly failed to disclose to us (although the Zoning Board probably knows it) is that he clearly has a business relationship with Nagi. Ah, the skullduggery of it all....
Happy New Year!!!
(Yes, including Nagi...)
Here’s a toast to a happier 2012 for everyone. In light of the many tragedies that occurred all over the world in 2011 (including the horrible Christmas-Day fire here in Stamford), this year has to be an improvement. Still, I don’t think that champagne corks were popping at the Osta residence last night. The last-minute appeal of the Zoning Board’s approval of Maple Ridge probably put a big damper on the festivities there. (The Leydon household, on the other hand, probably opened a second bottle to celebrate John’s anticipated legal fees for the appeal!)
So who is Gurpreet Ahuja, the plaintiff in the appeal? According to the city’s assessment records, she is the owner of three properties across the street from Nagi Jewelers: an unnumbered property on Tally Ho Lane, 827 High Ridge Road, and 831 High Ridge Road. Further investigation reveals that Gupreet Ahuja is the wife of Dr. Ajay Ahuja, who operates the Immediate Medical Care Center at 825 High Ridge Road. According to assessment records, this property is owned Ahuja Holdings LLC, presumably Dr. Ahuja’s business entity that also owns another unnumbered property on Donata Lane, as well as 815 High Ridge Road and 833 High Ridge Road. (For those keeping track, that’s seven properties in total.)
Records show that the attorney who filed the appeal is Gurpreet and Ajay Ahuja’s son, Stamford native Nicholas Ahuja. He owns the Nicholas Ahuja Law Office at 827 High Ridge Road, and he appears to be relatively new in practice. However, I checked his credentials: an undergraduate degree from (Ivy-League) Cornell University, and a law degree from the University of Virginia’s School of Law (which, according to U.S. News & World Report, is one of the top ten law schools in the country).
The “David-and-Goliath” comparison between Nicholas and John Leydon reminds me of John Leydon’s brother, Brenden Leydon, who took on the rich and powerful Town of Greenwich and ultimately forced the town open its beaches to the public. If Nicholas prevails in this appeal, the publicity he acquires will be worth a lot more than some full-page ad in the phone book.
As I remember, Dr. Ahuja and Nicholas attended all four public hearings on Nagi’s project. I just confirmed with other residents that one or both of them also attended the three Zoning Board meetings that followed. They seemed to be taking everything in at the hearings, but they never spoke. Thus, we never knew which side they were on. (I had heard that they were “neutral.”)
So the December 29th appeal completely blind-sided me, and I’m sure that it did Nagi, as well. I assumed that any appeal would have been filed on behalf of the 100+ residents who protested Nagi’s project at the November 10th public hearing, and that it would have been led by Flavia Lasalandra or another vocal resident. These neighbors were obviously not happy with the compromise that John Leydon and I crafted on November 7th, so it made sense that they would be the ones who would organize an appeal.
On a historical note, this situation reminds me of a global event that took place in 1974. Back then, the West was mostly concerned about potential nuclear threats from the former Soviet Union and China. Suddenly, out of the blue, the quiet, peaceful nation of India caught the world by surprise by detonating its first nuclear weapon. In a similar manner, the soft-spoken medical doctor and his young barrister son just dropped “The Big One” on Nagi’s Maple Ridge project. The effects of this blast are yet to be determined.
Coming Next: “Nagi’s ($$$) Noose”
What's the Deal with the Appeal?
I carefully reviewed the complaint-appeal that was served on the Zoning Board and Nagi on 12/29/11. It appears to address two purported failures on the Zoning Board's part: 1) failure to post adequate notice for two of the four public hearings, and 2) approving the originally submitted plan with material changes instead of requiring a new application. Both are technical issues that, if sustained, could result in a new application being re-submitted from scratch to the Zoning Board.
You almost have to feel sorry for the people on the Zoning Board. It's an unpaid position that requires regular attendance at frequent late-night meetings, the stress of trying to make everyone happy, and (in this case) even having photos of your street, as well as your financial affairs, posted on somebody's website.
Remember that Nagi is also suing the Zoning Board for failing to approve his prior application for Maple Ridge earlier this year! That version contained one vacant lot, and the Zoning Board was concerned about Nagi's plans for it. He answered their question with his current application, which added a 12,000-square-foot building containing 12 apartment units to his existing 28,300-square-foot building containing a day-care center and 10 apartment units.
During the first public hearing on 9/26/11, Zoning Board member Barry Michelson expressed concern that the Board was entertaining virtually the same application that they were being sued over. There is a discussion in the minutes about the current application being a new one due to a material change (i.e., the addition of 10 dwelling units) from the previous one.
Unfortunately for Nagi, this same argument can be made for the plan that the Zoning Board ultimately approved: it has five fewer dwelling units, condominiums instead of apartments, and a different traffic pattern due to the lack of a driveway on Bradley Place, as opposed to the originally submitted plan. So either Barry Michelson was right (thus the current application should not have been heard by the Board while they were being sued over a similar one), or Gurpreet Ahuja is right (thus the material changes in the project actually require a new application with a new set of notices, public hearings, etc.).
As for failure to post notices for some of the public hearings, after reviewing the appeal, I located zoning regulations C6-40-11 and C6-40-12 and copied them below. (I have added bolding for emphasis here.)
Sec. C6-40-11. - Notice of Public Hearings.
Notice of each public hearing held with respect to amendments of the Zoning Regulations and Map or applications for approval of site and architectural plans and/or requested uses shall be given by publishing in an official newspaper the time, place and purpose of such hearing. If any such hearing is to be held with respect to an amendment to the Zoning Map, such notice shall include a clear and accurate map showing the bounds of any area or areas affected. Said notice shall be published at least twice, the first not more than fifteen nor less than ten days before such hearing, and the last not less than two days before such hearing; and a copy of such proposed amendment or a copy of such application for approval of site and architectural plans and/or requested uses shall be filed in the office of the Town and City Clerk at least ten days before such hearing.
Sec. C6-40-12. - Hearings.
If more than one public hearing is considered by the Zoning Board to be necessary or advisable, additional hearings may be held upon due notice, as herein above set forth, provided no more than ninety days shall elapse between the first and last hearing on any one petition, unless the petitioner agrees in writing to an extension of such period.
Thus, according to the regulations, it would appear that two of the notices (September 14th and September 21st) were published for the September 26th hearing, and the other two (October 28th and November 4th) were published for the November 10th hearing. That leaves the October 6th and October 24th public hearings unaccounted for. (I don't think that my website qualifies as an "official newspaper," so my publishing notices of these two hearings doesn't count.) Although I don't know who is responsible for publishing the notices, it would appear that somebody dropped the ball here.
But who is Gurpreet Ahuja, and why is this appeal such a big problem for Nagi? The answers to these questions will have to wait until next year. Stay tuned....
12/30/11 Update #1:
(Click the link above to view the complaint-appeal served on Nagi and the Zoning Board on 12/29/11.)
An anonymous tip on the hotline prompted me to drive down to the Government Center this morning. I had received information that Nagi and the Zoning Board had just been sued regarding the board's 12/16/11 approval of Nagi's project. When I arrived at the Town Clerk's office at 10:30 AM, nothing had even been uploaded to their computer system yet. But (as you can see from the link above) a trip upstairs to the Zoning Department confirmed that Constable Ralph Serafino had, in fact, served the board with the complaint-appeal yesterday.
An initial review of the appeal shows that the complainant is Gurpreet Ahuja, who resides at #821 High Ridge Road (which is nearly across the street from Nagi's site). I haven't had time to read the appeal yet (I'm on my way to work), but I will update the site immediately when I do. I have no idea how Nagi feels about this appeal being filed, but I can assure you that it is not a good thing for him at all. (I will explain why later on.)
12/30/11 Update #2:
(Click the link above to view the Zoning Board's approval of Nagi's project -- with 27 conditions.)
While I was at the Government Center today, I also obtained the Zoning Board's long-awaited certification of Nagi's project. As you can see from the link, it was just recorded yesterday (12/29/11). This explains why I was not able to locate it on the Zoning Board's web site. Again, I haven't had a chance to look it over, but I wanted to post it ASAP. I'll have more to say about this and the appeal in a day or so, so please stay tuned.
(Click the link above to view Flavia Lasalandra's 12/22/11 letter to the editor of the Advocate.)
Wow! I guess that Flavia is really upset about Nagi's project. In fact, I KNOW that she's upset, since she told me so several times. Those of you who are familiar with Flavia know that she doesn't mince her words, and her letter attests to this fact.
I admit that my compromise with Nagi favored the residents of Indian Ridge at the expense of other residents. And I don't blame Flavia for complaining about the board's decision to approve Nagi's project in spite of unprecedented opposition to it. (In this respect, our October 24th showing at the Government Center was a record-breaker.) I am told that several residents are attempting to organize an appeal of the Zoning Board's decision to the Board of Representatives. But, by working on an appeal to the Board of Reps, they are completely wasting their time.
According to Section C6-40-5 and Section C6-40-9 of the city charter, the Board of Representatives can accept an appeal of a Zoning Board decision within 10 days ONLY when that decision results in either: 1) a change to the Zoning Map, or 2) a change to the Zoning Regulations. All other Zoning Board decisions must be appealed to Superior Court in Stamford.
Unfortunately, Nagi's application was neither of these; it was a special exception site plan under an approved use of the recently changed RM-1 (multi-family, low density) zone. The previous zone change, which was effective in 2010, was an example of a change to Stamford's Zoning Map that COULD have been appealed to the Board of Reps within 10 days of the Zoning Board's decision. But that is water under the bridge, and it has been for well over a year now.
Finally, according to Section C6-40-17 of the charter, any appeal to the court must be filed within 15 days of the official publication of the Zoning Board's decision. That decision was published in the legal notices on Page C5 of the Advocate on 12/16/11. Thus, the residents have until 12/31/11 to file an appeal to Stamford Superior Court. Of course, this requires an attorney, preferably a land-use attorney. And therein lies the rub....
Back in October, I began to realize that the Zoning Board's decision was already cast in stone (and my prediction of their vote turned out to be 100% correct). So I contacted Benjamin & Gold, the firm that helped defeat Nagi's initial plan to build a retail shopping center on his site a few years ago. Several local shopping center owners had collectively retained Benjamin & Gold for this purpose. (In hindsight, a small shopping center would have been better for us than the condo complex and day-care center that the Zoning Board ultimately approved. As they say, "be careful what you wish for...".)
Anyway, an attorney from Benjamin & Gold told me that, if the Zoning Board approves Nagi's project, his firm could likely mount an effective appeal--but they charge $395 per hour and command a $7,500 initial retainer. With this in mind, I decided that completely defeating Nagi's plan was not worth it (at least not to me). Thus, when John Leydon contacted me to discuss negotiations, we both decided that a compromise would be in all of our best interests. And I still believe this.
Of course, the residents don't have to retain a top-notch firm like Benjamin & Gold. They can probably find an up-and-coming attorney who wants to make a name for himself--as John Leydon's brother, Brenden Leydon, did when he successfully sued the Town of Greenwich to open up its beaches to non-residents. But (as I noted above) the residents have to be careful of what they wish for. Although they don't believe that Nagi went far enough with his concessions, a judge may not agree with that opinion. The court may very well decide that some of the Zoning Board's 27 conditions on Nagi's project were outside of the Board's power to impose on it. And, if the residents' appeal triggers a counter-appeal by Nagi, we could end up with less than what we have now.
(Click the link above to view Kara O'Connor's 12/13/11 Stamford Times article.)
Stamford Times reporter Kara O'Connor called yesterday to get my reaction to the Zoning Board's decision. As she quoted, I said that I felt a little bit more comfortable (and I emphasized the word "little") with Nagi's project than I had been at the beginning, since several changes had been made to address some of the issues I had raised. Would I have been happier to see 17 condo units and no day-care center? Absolutely. But, as John Leydon said from the beginning, the day-care was not negotiable. So I worked around this impediment while keeping the interests of our neighborhood foremost in mind.
There are seven billion people in the world, and every one of them is right -- and, if you don't believe it, just ask them. Nagi believes that he is right. He bought all of the houses on the block, he had the zoning legally changed, so he should be able to do as he wishes with his property. I believe that I am right. I have lived in Indian Ridge for 23 years (we moved here on December 17, 1988), and I don't want to see rampant over-development ruin the suburban character of our neighborhood. Other neighbors who say that the only acceptable outcome is to renovate Nagi's run-down houses believe that they are right. And so on.
I see this nearly every day on the job, as well: two neighbors arguing about a civil matter both believe that they are right, so they call the police to settle it. The police arrive and attempt to broker a compromise between the neighbors. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But the outcome is almost always better when a compromise is reached.
Years ago, two friends of mine decided to divorce. They both rejected the court's suggested settlement arrangement, and they hired attorneys to battle each other in a bitter divorce trial. In the end, they spent a combined total of $175,000 on attorney's fees, only to receive the exact same settlement that they had both rejected in the beginning.
So I kept these issues in mind during my negotiations with John Leydon. Despite Tricia Reville's allegations, I tend to be a reasonable person. And, while I know that the Zoning Board's decision wasn't the best outcome for me or anyone else in the Mid-Ridges (except Nagi), it was the most reasonable one in the eyes of the Zoning Board. (Remember here that Nagi currently has a lawsuit filed against the board for rejecting his previous proposal.)
Finally, I recently discovered that Nagi has a LOT of money at risk in this project...which explains why the day-care was never on the bargaining table. Perhaps I'll write about this issue in the next few days......
(a.k.a., "A Christmas present for Nagi")
(Click the link above to view Elizabeth Kim's 12/13/11 Advocate article.)
This article appeared in the online version of today's Advocate. They have included my photo from their November 7th article, so now I've got another 15 minutes of fame (actually, infamy) to deal with.
I also have details about some of the other conditions that the Zoning Board imposed on Nagi's project. (John Leydon provided them as a courtesy to me, with the explicit caveat that he is paraphrasing them. So we'll have to wait until the board's minutes are published to see the actual conditions.)
SOME RELEVANT CONDITIONS:
- There will be 17 dwelling units instead of 22, and they will be structured as condominiums instead of apartments.
- Nagi will remit $100,000 to the city, a portion of which will be used to construct a turning lane at the top of Bradley Place. The remainder will remain in escrow for three years, to be used toward a traffic light on High Ridge at Bradley, pending approval by the Connecticut DOT.
- There will be a "landscaping buffer" constructed to prevent access to Bradley Place from the driveway behind the development. (The driveway behind Nagi's jewelry store will retain its existing access to Bradley Place.) This is far better than the gate that was previously proposed. (A landscaping buffer is a lot more difficult to circumvent than a gate....)
- If a traffic light is installed on High Ridge at Bradley during the three-year period noted above, the landscaping buffer can be removed to allow traffic to flow between the development and Bradley Place.
- The maximum capacity of the day-care center will be reduced from 120 children to 90 children.
- Approximately nine parking spaces will be removed from the rear lot to allow one building to be set back further from High Ridge Road.
- A recommendation was made for diagonal parking spaces in the drop-off area between the buildings. (This is for safety purposes: it helps prevent taller vehicles from obstructing the view of drivers backing out of spaces in smaller cars).
- No stoves or ovens will be installed in the pantry area of the day-care center.
I don't have any details on the rest of the 27 conditions that the Zoning Board imposed on the project, but I will post them as soon as they are available.
As I predicted, Harry Parson Jr., Maria Nakian, and Tom Mills voted to approve the application, while Audrey Cosentini and Barry Michelson voted against it. (Too bad that no one took me up on my bet.) But I will concede that Tom Mills did his best to come up with a compromise during the board's deliberations. (It would have been even better if he had voted against the project, but I never expected that to happen in a thousand years.) The turning lane for Bradley Place and the landscaping buffer to prevent access to Bradley were both pleasant surprises, at least for me.
I will continue to post news on Nagi's project whenever it becomes available, so please continue to email your "scoops" to email@example.com or call the hotline at 203-724-5629. (As always, all emails and calls are confidential.)
12/11/11 Update #1:
(Click the title link above, then scroll down to the second letter, "Opposition not based on income.")
I'd like to thank my neighbor, Joe Grosso, for writing a rebuttal to Tricia Reville's letter to the Advocate. A lot transpired since I first became aware of Nagi's project after reading about it in the Advocate on September 23rd. I had actually forgotten the heading of that article: High Ridge day care, housing project back before Zoning Board (bolding emphasis added). Joe is correct: I did not attribute that term to "Maple Ridge"--The Advocate did. So Tricia Reville's barbs were misdirected.
Apparently, Joe's letter appeared in the online version of the Advocate on Friday 12/9/11, but I only found about it today when several people called me about the printed version (which appears on Page A18 of today's Advocate). At least it was printed before tomorrow night's Zoning Board meeting.
I spoke with Joe today, and he revealed that the Advocate did not publish his letter in its entirety--he had also written about an incident that occurred at around 5 PM on Saturday, November 5th, almost directly across from Nagi's jewelry store on High Ridge Road. I'll just say that there was a display of emotions up there that caused concern about the effect that our campaign was having on certain individuals. So I met with John Leydon the next day and we hammered out our compromise. When you read the reference to "Mr. Longo's concerns" at the end of the letter, that is what Joe is referring to. I really was worried that, if the battle had continued, people were going to get hurt.
12/11/11 Update #2:
Come out of the closet, Ted.
(No, not THAT closet...Nagi's closet. More accurately, his business.)
This has been bothering me for awhile, so I want to put it up before tomorrow's Zoning Board meeting. We all know that some of the people who have spoken in support of Nagi's project are not exactly objective. One of Nagi's most loyal supporters is Ted Sierpina. As you can see from the link, Ted lives at 240 Little Hill Drive, behind the Harry Bennett Library on Vine Road. Ted's constantly repeated mantra at the Zoning Board hearings is that he was once opposed to the library, but he now realizes that his fears were unfounded. (The implication is that we should welcome Nagi's project with open arms.)
Here are Ted's comments from several Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings:
[BTW, this is where Nagi was able have the Master Plan changed to down-zone his properties from "single family" (R-10) to "multiple family, low-density design" (RM-1). Note that the secretary totally massacred Ted's name and address in the transcription below.]
"Ted Cer, 24 Little Hill Drive, spoke in favor of the proposal for a few reasons. Stating that single family homes are not viable on High Ridge Road."
"Ted Sierpina, 240 Little Hill Road, spoke in favor and said that he had opposed the branch library proposal at Turn of River School, but that it had turned out great. He said that traffic on High Ridge Road was a fact and that Nagi Osta was an honest person who was being attacked."
"Ted Serpina, 240 Little Hill Drive, said that the negative slurs expressed in the “stopnagi” web site were very disappointing and that he thought it was a positive development."
Ted, I'm also very disappointed in you. I can't believe that you failed to disclose--on three separate occasions and to two government bodies--the fact that you have a professional relationship with Nagi.
Here is a link to the signature page of a loan modification agreement for Nagi's "Sedulous LLC" from the Connecticut Bank and Trust Company. It was signed on May 31, 2011.
Who witnessed these signatures, Ted?
(P.S.--I may have more to say about this loan--as well as another one---after tomorrow's Zoning Board meeting....)
A Turning Lane for Bradley Place?
Speaking of compromises...I received a call yesterday from Nagi's attorney, John Leydon. He has apparently been keeping up on my website, and he wanted to know if I was serious about the following statement in my 12/1/11 update:
"I'll go as far as to say that the benefits of a right-turning lane would negate the traffic burden of a driveway connecting Bradley Place and Maplewood Place."
I confirmed that, yes, if Nagi will pay the city to widen the top of Bradley Place and install a right-turning lane there, I will agree to allow Nagi to open his proposed driveway to Bradley Place. (I never did like the idea of a cheesy gate there, anyway. We all know that, once the gate is opened to plow the first big snowfall, it will stay open until the next thaw.)
For comparison, I measured near the top of Cedar Heights Road (which has a turning lane). Its three-lane portion is about 35 feet wide. (Each travel lane requires about 10 feet, plus a small margin for dividing lines, shoulders, etc.) I then measured near the top of Bradley Place--which I'm sure made Nagi pretty nervous when he saw me out there. (This is understandable: the last time I was in front of his store was when the Advocate took photos of me for their article.) Anyway, if the grass median next to Nagi's store is removed, it would provide enough room for a right-turn lane, possibly without even moving the two utility poles next to the guard rail. I immediately called John Leydon and told him that it's a deal.
So Nagi is finally putting at least some of his money where his mouth is. He has said over and over that he cares about our neighborhood. We have needed a turning lane at the top of Bradley Place for as long as I have lived here. Nagi is now willing to give up a small strip of his property and pay the expense of installing a turning lane there. (The city claims a right-of-way to this strip and may even own part of it, but Nagi still has to pay for the expensive roadwork and street marking.)
I know that our neighborhood is split on the need for a traffic light at the top of Bradley Place. I personally have never wanted one there, but I can understand how some of us might. With the proposed widening of the junction, at least now a light would make a little more sense.
"Nobody likes a compromise."
Tom Mills is discovering what I did a month ago. Check out Elizabeth Kim's article in the 12/7 edition of the Advocate:
Half of our neighborhood is still upset with the compromise that I made with Nagi (via John Leydon) on November 7th, so I certainly know how Mr. Mills feels. There are some people who believe that the only "acceptable development" would be a renovation of the five houses on Nagi's lots. From a private-property perspective, that's probably not reasonable. Personally, I would have been happier with condo units (even 22 of them) and no day-care center, but John Leydon said that the day-care was non-negotiable. As I told Elizabeth Kim on 11/7, "Nobody likes a compromise." (Or at least they don't like mine.) So hopefully the Zoning Board can work out a solution that is more acceptable to everyone. If not, the rumblings that I am hearing from area residents suggest that Monday's vote won't be the end of this saga....
12/07/11 Update #3:
Speaking of "Follow the Money..."
What a coincidence that Chris Brecciano, one of the adjacent property owners who spoke in favor of Nagi’s project, won a gift basket worth $1,000 from Nagi Jewelers last week! Here’s how Chris's comments were recorded in the Zoning Board minutes on September 26th:
"Chris Brecciano, 28 Maplewood Place, said he’s qualified to comment for three reasons: he lives on adjacent property, he’s a local real estate attorney and day care is becoming important to him. He stated the site is currently atrocious and not conducive to a family environment. Mr. Osta is a good resident of the neighborhood and this development will improve the area."
(You just can't make this stuff up....)
12/07/11 Update #2:
Follow Maria's Money?
I have been wondering why Maria Nakian is so staunchly supportive of developers like Nagi. She has apparently supported quite a few housing projects in the past, so her support of this one is no surprise. Her most infamous vote was for the Windermere on the Lake project on Erskine Road, which reportedly cost her a seat on the Board of Representatives. She also supported the mixed-income Palmer Square project on Palmer's Hill Road, among others.
My search for answers led me to the state's judicial web site, where I discovered a property foreclosure case against Maria and her husband, Paul Nakian. On 2/14/11, a Notice of Judgment of Strict Foreclosure was granted by the court for this property at #3 Richmond Drive in Darien. As you can see from the links above, the property is currently on the market for $1,525,000.
Interestingly, the legal ownership of Maria and Paul Nakian's residence at #90 Campbell Drive has bounced back and forth between them six times since 1978, and it has been held solely in Maria's name since 2008. (How often have you and your spouse done something like this? Why is such a shell game even necessary?) Of course, my discoveries only left me with more questions than answers, so if you can help, I'm all ears....
12/07/11 Update #1:
No Gate = No Deal
I just received an email about Monday night's meeting from Cynthia Reeder. (Cynthia defeated a proposal to expand Lord & Taylor in Bull's Head to a 350,000-square-foot shopping mall with 1,100 parking spaces, so she has a bit of experience in these issues.) As you will see below, one of the conditions that Maria "I-never-saw-a-development-that-I-didn't-like" Nakian is imposing on Nagi's project is the removal of the gate to Bradley Place. My reaction to this news is:
"If the gate comes down, I pop back up!"
In other words, if Nagi's project gains direct access to Bradley Place (and thus to Indian Ridge), my verbal agreement with John Leydon will longer be in effect. (John and I never executed anything in writing, but we have both stuck to our "gentlemen's agreement." That's why I was no longer involved in opposing Nagi's project...up to now. I also agreed not to assist in an appeal if the project is approved by the Zoning Board.) So you just might see me at Monday night's meeting -- along with a few other people who have been staying home until now. And maybe even some props.....
Anyway, here is Cynthia's take on the meeting:
The Zoning Board did *not* vote on the Nagi application at its meeting last night. Rather, it reached an impasse and determined that it needs to continue its discussion -- and its vote -- until next week’s meeting:
Monday, December 12th at 7 PM in the Zoning Board offices.
As with all regular Zoning Board meetings, members of the public are welcome to attend.
To expand on The Advocate article just a bit:
- reducing the day care facility to accommodate 75 students
- reducing the parking by 50 spaces
- having the “pantry” area in the day care center plan designated as a closet or storage area
- creating more green space between the Nagi store and the proposed apartment building that will be constructed next to it, and
- withdrawal of the lawsuit within 20 days of the approval (Nagi’s lawyer told the Director of Planning that he could not withdraw the suit that quickly!)
It’s also worth noting that even though the Board is trying to create a legally-binding document, no legal counsel from the city was present to address the conditions being discussed or their implications.
I highly recommend that you attend next Monday’s meeting if you are concerned about the Board’s decision and its impact on the neighborhood. There’s no substitute for observing the Board deliberations and watching “government in action” first-hand.
I think I can safely say that the neighbors who attended Monday night experienced an eye-opener.
Feel free to call me if you’d like to discuss what transpired at the meeting.
(Click the link above to read the Advocate's 12/6/11 article.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now crossed into uncharted waters--last night marks the SIXTH time that the Zoning Board has met to discuss Nagi's CURRENT proposal! Here are all of the meetings to date:
October 24th (suspended)
Remember that Nagi presented two previous proposals to the Zoning Board during the past couple of years, but they were shot down. The first was for a commercial development, and the second was for 9-10 housing units and a day-care center. To refresh your memory, here are the Advocate articles on those projects:
Stamford businessman makes second attempt to develop nearby High Ridge property (Advocate, 5/26/10)
I did not attend last night's meeting, but I heard that it was entertaining, to say the least. From what I understand, Harry Parson's use of the word "hell" was an indicator of the meeting's general tone. All I can say is, "Damn! I might have to attend the next meeting in case old Harry decides to drop the f-bomb!" We'll see what happens on Monday 12/12/11....
I just looked at the agenda for tonight's Zoning-Board meeting. As you can see from the link, it's packed: THREE public hearings and SIX pending applications (including Nagi's) to discuss and/or vote on! Since I made my treaty agreement with Nagi nearly a month ago, I won't be attending the meeting. You already know my long-standing prediction for the vote:
Tom Mills, Maria Nakian, and Harry Parson, Jr. will vote to approve Nagi's project.
Audrey Cosentini and Barry Michelson will vote against it.
I'm not a betting person, but I would bet $100 on this. If you want to bet against me, email or call ASAP. Assuming the board votes on Nagi's project tonight, you have only a few hours to place your bets.)
No, I'm not talking about certain members of our Zoning Board (although, Harry and Maria, if the shoe fits...).
I just found Angelo Gargagliano's novel on Amazon! (Click the title link above to see it.) Angelo wrote those wonderful pieces on "Angelo's Corner" (click the link in the black banner near the top of this page). When he told me that he had written a novel, I assumed that it was merely an unpublished manuscript. If Angelo's letters are any indication of his creativity, I'm looking forward to reading "Amoral Authority." (It's also available in a Kindle edition on Amazon.)
As for the Zoning Board...I'm hearing rumors that the sheer size of Nagi's proposed day-care (120 children) is a concern, so it's more likely to be accepted with a smaller capacity. But this is only a rumor.
I'm also hearing some interesting ways to mitigate traffic, such as widening the top of Bradley Place for a right-turning lane there. This would be achieved by Nagi giving up part of his driveway on the north side of his jewelry store. (There are several utility poles there that would also have to be moved.) If Nagi himself had proposed something like this in the beginning, he wouldn't have faced as much opposition from the residents in Indian Ridge. In fact, it would have supported his claim that he is actually concerned about us. I'll go as far as to say that the benefits of a right-turning lane would negate the traffic burden of a driveway connecting Bradley Place and Maplewood Place. It would also make a traffic light on High Ridge at Bradley much more feasible.
Just a thought.....
The Board is Still Split
Apparently I missed a good meeting last night.....
(Click the link above to read Elizabeth Kim's article in today's Advocate -- great job, Elizabeth!)
I don't know if Tom Mills is really the "swing vote" for Nagi's proposal, however. I believe that Mr. Mills has been totally supportive of the project in the past, and I don't see why he would change his stance now. So I am sticking with my prediction that he will support Nagi's project if the board votes on it on Monday 12/5. He is just keeping tight-lipped about his intentions.
Speaking of the board's vote...if you disagree with my compromise with Nagi (particularly on the issue of the day-care center), you might want to make time to attend the Zoning Board meeting at 7 PM on Monday 12/5. Although you won't be allowed to speak there, your presence just might make a difference.
P.S. -- I'm looking for investors to buy the properties next to Maria Nakian's house on Campbell Drive and build a day-care center for 120 kids there. She said that this will be fine with her, so it should be a shoe-in for zoning!
11/28/11 Update #3 (6:30 PM):
Still Fighting This Cold
Sorry, but I'm not going to attend tonight's Zoning Board meeting. It's probably better for everyone that I won't be there, since my cold has worsened during the past few hours. (It has been doing this every evening.) If you attend, please let me know how it goes. And give my regards to Nagi....
11/28/11 Update #2:
"Been there, done that, got the T-shirt?"
I just heard from the resident whose email was forwarded by Norman Cole to Nagi. He said that he has no problem with me putting his quote on this site, but he wants a cut of the proceeds if I put it on a T-shirt. So I got to thinking that, well, just maybe....
11/28/11 Update #1:
Zoning Board's 11/10 Minutes and 11/28 Agenda *Finally* Posted
(Sorry again for my delayed update...I've been fighting the vicious cold that's been going around lately. It started on Tuesday night, when I sweated so badly in my sleep that my sheets were soaked the next morning...and it all went downhill from there. I won't go into details, but I hope that you are spared from it)
If I hadn't received a courtesy call from John Leydon five days ago, the agenda of tomorrow night's Zoning Board hearing would have been the best kept secret in Stamford. I had checked the board's web site a few days ago, and only the agenda for the 11/10 public hearing was posted then. But the City finally posted the minutes from the 11/10 public hearing, as well as the agenda for the 11/28 meeting. (Click the links to view each item.)
I hope to update the "Board Minutes" link (in the black banner, above) with links to all of the the agendas and minutes related to Nagi's project. Check back soon for this update.
You will note that the agenda for the 11/28 meeting does not include a public hearing, even though the Zoning Board's web site does show a public hearing scheduled for this date. Also, two other pending applications will be discussed before Nagi's applications. So, although the meeting will begin at 7 PM, the Zoning Board may not get around to discussing "Maple Ridge" until later on. If you plan to attend, be forewarned. (I hope to be there at around 8 PM myself.)
Far more ominous is a statement in the minutes of an unrelated 11/14 Zoning Board meeting. It reads: "Mr. Mills briefly outlined the agenda for November 28, 2011 to discuss Procurement LLC and the two applications heard this evening (Davenport Landing 211-29 and Hennessey text amendment 211-37). Mr. Michelson noted that he would not be able to attend the November 28, 2011 meeting." [bolding added for emphasis].
As you may know, Barry Michelson is one of the two Zoning Board members who appear to be opposed to Nagi's project. Now that he won't be attending the 11/28 meeting, the three members who support the project can "tag team" Audrey Cosentini, the only other member who appears to question the project. And, if they decide to actually vote on it tomorrow night...well....
As for the contents of the 11/10 public hearing's minutes, there is apparently a LOT that gets lost in the translation to paper (or, in this case, to PDF). If you attended the hearing at Turn of River Middle School that evening, you will quickly realize that the minutes are only a very brief summary of what transpired there. You will also realize that the minutes are not particularly accurate. For starters, many of the speakers' names have been massacred, despite being spelled out during the hearing. Some of their addresses are also incorrect. Finally, many of their statements are a mere shadow of what they actually said. The minutes are transcribed from tape by Maria Nakian, the secretary of the Zoning Board. She is "pro-development," so keep this in mind when you read the minutes.
Two relevant examples of inaccurate entries are:
"Tricia Revelle, 33 Briar Court"
(This is actually Tricia Reville of 30 Sweet Briar Court. By now we all know who Tricia is, right?)
"Katherine Thorpe, 32 Briar Court"
(This is actually Catherine Thorpe of 30 Sweet Briar Court. According to other public records, Mrs. Thorpe is apparently Tricia's mother. According to the city's assessment records, there is no "Briar Court" in Stamford. And there is no #32 or #33 on Sweet Briar Court, either.)
What we still don't know is the relationship between Tricia Reville, Catherine Thorpe, and Nagi. But sooner or later, it will be revealed to me, and then we will all know it--I promise.
Despite many such inaccuracies, these minutes are scheduled to be accepted by the board in its 11/28 meeting.
Nagi's Compromise: A "Substantial Change?"
A neighbor who is well versed in the Zoning regulations brought up an interesting point that I'll pass on.
Apparently, the verbal agreement that Nagi made with me (in which he agreed to close the driveway between Maplewood Place and Bradley Place, reduce the number of units from 22 to 17, and change the units from apartments to condos) may constitute a "substantial change" in his application for the project. If even one "affected resident" (i.e., someone who is within the 100-foot notification radius for the project) protests this change in writing to the Zoning Board, the board has to ask the city's corporation counsel for an opinion on whether the change is, in fact, "substantial." If the change in the application is deemed to be substantial, then the city's involved departments would have to re-approve the revised application, which has to be re-submitted for another public hearing, etc. Also, the changed plans would have to be mailed to the affected residents.
I was not able to find anything to substantiate this claim in the Zoning Regulations (but, then, I'm not an expert). The closest info that I did find covered changes that are made *after* a Zoning Permit has been issued:
SECTION 17 - APPLICATIONS AND PERMITS
A. Permits Required: Except as otherwise provided in these Regulations or other applicable laws, no building or structure shall be constructed, reconstructed, erected, enlarged, extended or structurally altered, wholly or partly, and no use of land, buildings or other structures, or part thereof, shall be undertaken or changed, and no excavation for any building, structure, sign or use shall be made, until a Zoning Permit has been issued by the Zoning Enforcement Officer. No Zoning Permit shall be issued for any building, structure, sign or use that requires issuance of a special exception, approval of site and architectural plans and requested uses, or Coastal Site Plan Approval under these Regulations until such approvals have been issued and are legally in effect. A Zoning Permit shall be rendered null and void if any substantial changes or alterations are made to the plot plan, building plans and/or other supporting application documents after the issuance of the Zoning Permit.
Since Nagi has not (yet) received a Zoning Permit, this section doesn't apply to the changes noted above.
I do seem to recall that, during the 11/10 public hearing, Zoning Board member Audrey Cosentini complained that the only reason she knew about the changes to Nagi's plan was because she had read about them in the Advocate! Again, I don't know what the notification requirements are for such changes, but she was apparently not happy that the Zoning Board was not in the loop on them.
Related to this issue: the ethical integrity of the Zoning Department and Land Use Bureau has been tarnished--at least in my opinion--by the following events, as well as others:
(1) On 10/6/11, Norman Cole (Acting Land Use Bureau Chief) forwarded at least 16 emails from residents opposed to Nagi's project directly to Nagi, his attorney (John Leydon), his engineer (Len D'Andrea), and his traffic engineer (Joseph Balskus). Nagi then responded to these forwarded emails by sending out one mass email to all of the opposed residents. Unfortunately, Nagi's email contained ALL of the residents' email addresses, effectively compromising their privacy. One of the affected residents later forwarded Nagi's response to me. (You can find it, as well as my rebuttal, in the Words With Nagi link, above.) What doesn't appear in the link is the neighbor's comment to me:
Unbelievable! I send the city an email
And Nagi replies!
What does that say?
(Exactly my point here....)
(2) On 10/17/11 (a week before the October 24th. public hearing), Norman Cole apparently decided to take a vacation (or do something--I never did find out exactly what). So, during that critical week, residents opposing Nagi's project who took the time to email Mr. Cole received only the following automated reply:
I'll be out of the office Monday, October 17th through Monday, October 24th. You can contact Todd Dumais @firstname.lastname@example.org if you require immediate assistance.
To this day, these residents don't know if their emails were ever received by Mr. Cole, forwarded to Mr. Dumais, or left languishing in Mr. Cole's inbox on the day of the hearing. Ultimately, the hearing was suspended after we overcrowded the cafeteria in the Government Center, so Mr. Cole's absence became a moot point. But I had made an agreement with him that I would print his contact info (instead of the Zoning Board members') on my flyers, so I still consider his coincidental one-week absence to be suspicious, at best.
(3) Shortly after returning from "vacation," Mr. Cole sent an email to me in which he gushed over the fact that Nagi's buildings will use about the same percentage of land as the Vine Meadow condominiums at 865 High Ridge Road. (See my 11/05 update--"Welcome Home, Norm!"--below.) But he never addressed my reply, which listed five important contrasts between Vine Meadow and Maple Ridge.
(I can probably think of other issues here, but it's close to 2:00 AM, so I'll publish this for now. Good night....)
Zoning Board to Discuss Nagi's Project on Monday 11/28
(Sorry for my delay in updating the site. I'm still working on getting my life back....)
I received a call today from Nagi's attorney, John Leydon. He said that the Zoning Board is scheduled to discuss Nagi's application during its regular public hearing and meeting on Monday 11/28/11. (This meeting will be held on the 7th floor of the Government Center.) However, the Zoning Board may or may not actually vote on the application that evening. Anyone is free to attend the meeting, but, since the public hearing on Nagi's application was closed on 11/10/11, we would not be allowed to speak about the application.
I just found this article in The Daily Stamford -- it was written the day after the 11/10 public hearing at TOR. So Tom Finn is the High Ridge Road resident who performed the "expert" skit that had me rolling! If I had known that the hearing would have been so entertaining, I would have videotaped it. (There is an audio recording available for public inspection at the Zoning Bureau, so I may have to check it out sometime.)
Anyway, the article also features a couple of nice photos of Nagi. He's really not a bad guy, and I'm sure that his original project would have fared much better with us if it wasn't so dense. (In fact, if he had asked for 17 condo units and no day care, even I would have agreed to the driveway between Maplewood Place and Bradley Place!)
More on Tricia Reville
Tricia Reville obviously has some connection with Nagi. No 23-year-old Young, UPwardly-mobile Professional-IE would devote the kind of time and energy that she has to attending hearings, writing to The Advocate, etc. If you are aware of the "Reville-Osta Connection," please email me at email@example.com. Or leave a message on the hotline: 203-724-5629. All calls and emails will be treated confidentially.
Actually, my friends, relatives, and neighbors were more upset with Tricia's letter than I was. Some of them have insisted that I write a rebuttal to the Advocate. I believe that I addressed Tricia's accusations pretty well below. Also, The Advocate already bent over backward to publicize my efforts. Thus, I don't want to "look a gift horse in the mouth" by asking for The Advocate's editorial space after they had given me their front page. Several times....
However, I do object to Tricia (the epitome of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) "pulling the race card" on me:
"Shame on you Mr. Longo for perpetuating prejudice and suggesting that low-income Americans do not deserve a decent place to live."
I seem to recall that, during the public hearing, Tricia said that she lives (presumably with her parents) at #30 Sweet Briar Court, an exclusive cul-de-sac off Sweet Briar Road (which is off Newfield Avenue, near King Low Heywood Thomas School). According to the City's assessment records, there are four 4,000-6,000 square-foot homes on this street. Each sits on an acre of land. Judging from the names, all of the residents appear to be, well...you can look them up yourself here. And the property at #30 Sweet Briar Court is valued at nearly a million dollars ($964,129, or an assessed value of $674,890, to be exact).
Contrast this with my working-class neighborhood: Indian Ridge is equally represented by nearly every race, ethnicity, and religion on the planet. My long-time neighbors on both sides happen to be American black. The neighbor who rents the house across the street is from Eastern Europe. The neighbors before him were Hispanic. The owner of that home is Iranian. A Vietnamese family lives a few doors away. An Sikh family lives next to the Vietnamese family. We have residents from Haiti. We have residents from Jamaica. We have residents from Poland. (You get the picture....)
So, Tricia girl, before you talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk. We'll be watching to see where you end up living when you move out of your parents' house. Would you really "love to live in one of [Nagi's] proposed housing units?" Would you really walk and ride your bicycle to work, and shop at our local stores? Or will Nagi's "Maple Ridge" project not be cosmopolitan enough for you? Only time will tell.....
(Click the link above for Tricia Reville's Letter to the Editor of the Advocate)
(When you first saw that heading, I'll bet you thought that I had really switched sides, huh?)
So who is Tricia Reville, anyway? For starters, she is a 23-year-old financial analyst who works at G.E. Ms. Reville also happened to speak in support of Nagi's project at the 11/10 public hearing. If you were there, you might recall her from this YouTube video:
Here's more info from Tricia's online business profile:
Tricia Reville is is a senior in the George Washington University School of Business studying international business and entrepreneurship. She studied abroad in India from June to August 2010 where she worked with biofuel systems at the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute. After returning from India, Tricia began researching on-site waste to energy biofuel system use in the United States. She wrote a business plan for Greenfinity, her business, and won two business plan competitions as well as raising $5,000 of initial capital. Tricia also works for Jim Chung at GW’s Office of Entrepreneuership and is a Young Leader’s Judge for the global women’s role models movement: The Hot Mommas Project.
You can probably get a pretty good feel for Tricia's leanings via her Twitter posts:
Likewise from her restaurant tips posted at foursquare.com:
(In other words, Tricia is the perfect personification of the "Nagi-ite" that I described in my 10/24/11 post.)
OK, so on to her letter. I have copied it below, along with my responses (in italics) to each of her points.
High Ridge Road development will benefit city
To the editor:
How would you classify the area on High Ridge Road south of the Merritt Parkway entrance? Commercial? Residential? In his attempts to smear Nagi Osta's development project, Paul Longo would have you think High Ridge Road runs through a nature preserve (news stories, Oct. 25, Nov. 7, 8, 11).
In reality, High Ridge Road is both a commercial and residential area - and both must learn to live with each other.
Actually, Tricia, there are clearly defined lines between the commercial and residential areas of High Ridge Road. You can see them on Stamford's Zoning Map and in its master plan. Nagi's properties had been single-family residential before the Zoning Board approved his application to have them "down-zoned" to low-density multiple family last year. (Shame on us, the residents, for not keeping track of his application.)
Mr. Longo posted pictures of three Zoning Board member's addresses on his website. Where are the pictures of the houses that are currently on the development site Mr. Longo? The houses currently there are an eyesore and drain on local property values. I challenge you to put those pictures side by side with pictures of Mr. Osta's development plan and let visitors to your website vote on which they would rather live by on High Ridge Road. Bring the voting results to the next Zoning Board meeting. I'm sure the crowd would be interested to hear the results.
Tricia, there is a well-known strategy among developers called demolition by neglect. (Click on the link to read about it, or you can look it up yourself on the many "green" websites that you subscribe to.) Please be aware that Nagi purchased most of his properties over three years ago... and he paid over 40% more than they were worth at the time. Surely he could have put a little money into fixing them up. But the fact that he didn't do this lends credence to our fear that, despite his claims to the contrary, he doesn't really care about our neighborhood.
As a young professional living in Stamford, I would love to live in one of the proposed housing units. For anyone working in the High Ridge office park, this means walking or riding a bike to work. Residents of the apartment building would take advantage of small businesses in the area owned and run by "the workers in The City That Works," to borrow a phrase from Mr. Longo.
Yes, Tricia, you might like to live in one of those housing units, but (judging from your proclivity for world travel, probably not for long. My guess is that, in a few years, you will move into a nice little place in Greenwich, or an apartment in midtown Manhattan. And this is another problem that our local residents have with an apartment complex, which would replace homeowers with all-too-often temporary renters.
In addition, Mr. Longo forgets about the jobs generated by building projects such as Mr. Osta's. If anything, anyone not supporting Mr. Osta's project clearly does not support local job growth in our recovering economy.
I definitely support job growth in our local economy, but not at such a cost to our local neighborhood. Yes, the apartment complex and day-care center is not exactly a coal-fired power plant, but my point was that its sheer density will have an adverse impact on our local traffic, turnover of residents, etc. If Nagi suddenly changed his mind and said that he wants to build 17 condo units without a day-care center, hardly any of us would object.
I am sickened by Mr. Longo's facetious use of the phrase "housing project." He allows people's imaginations to run wild with stereotypes of gun-slinging drug addicts living on High Ridge Road. In reality, most people qualifying as low-income are not stereotypical criminals, but probably single mothers working multiple minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet. Shame on you Mr. Longo for perpetuating prejudice and suggesting that low-income Americans do not deserve a decent place to live.
To be honest, I did actually consider heading my flyers with something like "Stop Nagi's Excessive Density!" But no one would have paid attention to them. Is Maple Ridge really a housing project? Absolutely. But, for that matter, so is Indian Ridge (where I have lived for 23 years). To confirm this, a little history is in order:
Indian Ridge was developed in 1963. The houses here sold for well under the average price of homes at the time. I have an old Advocate photo that appeared on Page 2 of the newspaper's January 21, 1963 edition. It shows a long line of people standing out in the freezing cold on Shadow Ridge Road. The caption reads:
"This line of prospective home owners, waiting patiently to inspect the 'Surrey' model home, was typical of thousands who came to see three model homes Saturday and Sunday at the 'Indian Ridge' development off Cedar Heights Rd. Inquirers and sales made the area swarm with activity throughout the weekend, after the opening was reported in advertisements in the Stamford Advocate. Harry Williams is the builder. All of the homes and lots planned for the area had been sold before the weekend was over."
So why did over 150 homes--which hadn't even been built yet--sell out in only two days? Because they were DIRT CHEAP, even in 1963. According to the ads mentioned above, the ranches cost only $17,500, the dutch colonials cost only $19,500, and the full colonials cost only $21,990. I also have a sales brochure for Indian Ridge. It states that a $10 deposit held the property for the buyer, who signed an application and increased his deposit to $100 a week later to cement the deal. So (surprise, Tricia!) Indian Ridge was the "Mid-Ridges Housing Project" of its day.
Judging from your neo-yuppie posts, links, and friends, your reading of prejudice in my flyers most likely demonstrates your own deep-seated fear of the "unwashed masses," who--other than during your junkets to third-world countries--you never have, and never will, actually rub elbows with. (As I said, you are the perfect Nagi-ite.)
Change comes hard in this world, and Stamford is no different. People flipped out when traffic was re-routed from the Merritt Parkway's exit 34 through Wire Mill Road and Cedar Heights Road. Everyone was upset when a new Ferguson Library was built on Vine Road. Is anyone still protesting these projects? No, because fear of the unknown always outweighs any possible negative consequences reality could bring.
Especially when it's in someone else's neighborhood...right Tricia?
Stamford residents will see through all of this flawed reasoning and welcome Mr. Osta's project and boost to the local economy with open arms. Mr. Longo, I suggest you take your sticker books and childish attack tactics elsewhere.
More accurately, those who don't live near and/or those who stand to benefit financially from Nagi's project seem to be only the ones who welcome it. Most other residents in our area have opposed it. The exhibits available at the second public hearing on 10/6/11 included a list of addresses that sent letters supporting vs. opposed to Nagi's project, as well as a map of addresses that sent emails supporting vs. opposing it. Check out the numbers for yourself. (Although the number of opposing residents increased tremendously after this hearing, there was no corresponding list or map available at the 10/24/11 or 11/10/11 hearings.)
As for the lapel stickers (and flyers, for that matter), please remember that Nagi followed suit with buttons and flyers of his own. And I commended him for it. In fact, if Nagi had distributed information about his project to the neighbors in advance of his application and had asked for our feedback, we probably wouldn't even be having this discussion right now.
Expenses & Techniques
Perhaps you're thinking about starting a crusade of your own. (I have received calls from people who are interested in doing just that.) If so, here's more info about my expenses, techniques, etc. Let's start at the top:
"Staples Brights" Paper: In a word, it's awesome! (No, I don't own stock in Staples.) Check it out at your local store. A ream of 500 sheets costs $11.79 plus tax, but it's worth it. I printed Flyer #1 on Staples Brights light-yellow paper, which really jumps out at you. I then switched to orange to complement the "Halloween" motif of Flyers #2 and #3. Both colors nearly glow in the dark--I could easily see which houses I had "flyered."
As for delivering the flyers--you want to place them in doors instead of mailboxes whenever possible. (For one thing, postal regulations prohibit the use of mailboxes for anything but U.S. Mail.) I never creased my flyers. If the storm door was unlocked, I slipped the flyer between the door and its jamb at eye level, then closed the door to hold the flyer in place. If the storm door was locked, I rolled the flyer loosely into a tube (printed side out) and slipped it through (or under) the door handle. If there was no storm door, I loosely folded it vertically and slipped it edge-first into the space between the outer edge of the door and its jamb--again, at eye level. Or I rolled it up and slipped it through the door knocker. If none of these options was available, I simply placed the flyer through porch railings, under loose objects on the porch, etc. In a few cases, I did have to hang a flyer out of an empty mailbox (to maximize visibility). Most of the time, it took only five seconds to deliver a flyer.
Plan your delivery route beforehand. Google Maps (maps.google.com) allows you to print custom maps of any neighborhood. Some streets are best suited to a pattern of deliveries up one side, then back down the other side. Others (such as circular streets) are better covered using a zig-zag delivery pattern. Ask your mail carrier for suggestions here--mine delivers to more than 450 homes every day, which makes him a "delivery expert."
(To be continued...)
Sorry that I haven't updated the site in a few days -- I finally mowed my lawn, cleaned up the leaves, removed the window A/C units, and so on. As promised, here is a breakdown of my out-of-pocket expenses for the campaign:
Staples Brights light-yellow copy paper (3 reams)
Staples Brights orange copy paper (4 reams)
Stopnagi.com 10-page site w/ private registration (1 year)
3.3-inch lapel stickers (1,000) w/ overnight shipping
18" x 24" lawn signs (50) w/ overnight shipping
Ooma Telo handset (for dedicated phone line)
HP laser printer toner cartridge (w/ $25 off coupon)
Staples, screws & washers (for signs and posters)
I have more to say about these expenses (as well as the amount of time I devoted to the campaign), but that will have to wait until tomorrow....
From that I have read in the comments following yesterday’s Advocate article, some bloggers apparently believe that I had ulterior motives in striking a deal with Nagi's attorney. Unfortunately, it was just a matter of pragmatics.
As for Nagi's minor concessions, I agree that they are just that: minor. But remember that Nagi was not willing to give up *anything* until Monday's article appeared in the Advocate. (Except, that is, for reducing his day-care from 120 kids to 90 kids...a concession that he took off the table when we struck our deal.) When our local politicians started jumping on the "I'm against Nagi's project!" bandwagon on Monday morning, I simply seized the moment and wrung a few concessions out of Nagi that day.
I based my decision to negotiate on the following facts:
The next day (Tuesday) was Election Day--an unpredictable turn of events, to be sure. In hindsight, nearly all of the candidates who opposed Nagi's project lost. On Monday, this was a bargaining chip. By Tuesday, it was down the drain. Score one for my decision.
The old truism "Today it's news--tomorrow they wrap fish in it" applies here, as well. Our momentum had peaked on Monday with the article's appearance. And, given my 7AM-3PM work schedule this week, I knew that I could not have generated the intensive P.R. effort needed to fill TOR's auditorium beyond its capacity of 500+ people on Thursday. And that was the only way to stonewall the Zoning Board's decision again.
Speaking of the Zoning Board--its members are appointed, not elected. And, (IMHO) no amount of public pressure is going to make the three members in question (Tom Mills, Harry Parson, and Maria Nakian) change their votes. The board's chairman, Tom Mills, is actually getting his marching orders directly from Mayor Pavia. And I truly believe that Mayor Pavia is supporting Nagi's project (as well as every other development in town--these people are the Mayor's cronies) from behind the scenes.
During my efforts, I discovered first-hand that many of us are "armchair crusaders." We will talk up and support a cause as long as it doesn't inconvenience us or cost us too much. But, when it’s time to devote a weekend to deliver flyers or get petitions signed, precious few of us are willing to actually get out and do it. (Right, Joe?)
In reality, there were only two other people beside myself who had invested a lot of time and effort in this game. Don't get me wrong--I am VERY grateful to EVERYONE who showed up at the public hearings. But even these people represented only about 150 out of over 2,500 residents who had my flyers hand-delivered to their doors. (Some of them actually had two separate flyers delivered about a week apart.)
So what did I actually give up in this compromise? On Monday, I verbally agreed not to continue my campaign during the next three short afternoons (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) before the hearing...in other words, from around 4 PM (after I returned home from work) until sunset at 5 PM. I also agreed not to speak at the hearing, to appeal the Zoning Board’s decision, or to assist in an appeal. All in all, I really didn’t give up a lot.
As I said earlier: "Half a loaf is better than none."
Coming next: "How Much Did It Cost?" (since everyone wants to know)
Happy Veteran's Day, everyone! Speaking of: so much for the effectiveness of my "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month Armistice with Nagi"...at least for over 100 of you who still showed up at last night's public hearing.:
(Click on the link above for Elizabeth Kim's 11/10/11 Advocate Article)
I was amazed at the number of residents there, especially on the night before a "get-away" holiday. A good number of you stayed for the entire four-hour hearing--and you even put up with traffic engineer Joe Balskus! (For me, the BEST thing about the end of the hearings is that I no longer have to listen to Joe telling us what an expert he is. BTW, Joe, you shot down your credibility when you suggested that Roxbury Road and High Ridge Road are similar in traffic density. But I promised that I wouldn't rag on Nagi's project, so I'll stop right here....)
This time, Nagi wisely decided to keep most of his supporters at home; only a couple of dozen were there. (Much to Nagi's chagrin, their relatively small presence at the 10/24 public hearing had tipped the Government Center's cafeteria over its capacity, shutting down the hearing before it began and costing him beaucoup bucks for nothing.)
I noticed that the Zoning Board members seemed to present more thoughtful questions to Nagi's professionals last night than they did at the previous hearings. Clearly, they knew that the residents were listening very carefully to the proceeding. Much to the delight of the crowd, Indian Ridge's resident attorney and former city rep Phil Berns quoted some of Attorney Leydon's favorite "lawyer-ism's." And there were other entertaining presentations from our neighbors. I almost fell out of my seat when one of them gave the "I'm an expert, too!" speech.
Refreshingly, Nagi's supporters last night actually included a few neighbors who live on Bradley Place. Probably the most convincing was Dennis Origi, who lives two houses behind Nagi Jewelers. Now, to be fair, Dennis is a contractor. (He was actually the general contractor for his own home.) But no potential "quid pro quo" agreement between Dennis and Nagi could outweigh the fact that Dennis will have to live 100 feet from Nagi's project. Dennis is also the only Nagi supporter who drew any amount of applause from the opposing homeowners. Also, my other neighbor's assertion that Nagi "has power because he deals in stones" was at least entertaining.
Overall, it seems that many of our concerned residents still have a problem with Nagi's commercial day-care center. They probably would not have even attended the hearing if Nagi said that he only wants to build a 17-unit condo complex on his 1-1/2 acres (i.e., "Vine Meadow On Steroids"). I have even heard some residents say that a 22-unit condo complex would be OK, as long as the day-care center was eliminated.
Speaking of the day-care: there was some confusion, even among board members, about what sort of structures our RM-1 zoning regulations allow without applying for a special exception. So here they are:
Authorized Uses. In any RM-1 district a building or other structure may be erected, altered, arranged, designed or used, and a lot or structure may be used for any of the following purposes and no other:
a. Dwellings - single family, two family and multi-family.
b. Public parks and playgrounds.
c. Public schools.
d. Family day care homes: See this link for a definition: Schools and Daycare
(This is why Nagi has to apply for a special exception from the Zoning Board for his proposed day-care center--it is not one of the automatically permitted uses in an RM-1 zone.)
My belief (which many of you apparently do not share) is that the free market will ultimately take care of the day-care center: any traffic problem that it creates for us will be amplified ten-fold for its customers. Parents will put up with horrible traffic delays for only so long before they take their business elsewhere.
The one big problem that I DO have with Nagi's concession with us is his proposal to merely erect a gate in the roadway that apparently would still connect Bradley Place with Maplewood Place. Several residents also spoke out against the gate--they want to maintain a complete and permanent division between these two streets.
Attorney Leydon stated that allowing emergency access via the driveway is a safety issue. However, this is contradicted by the permanent barrier that stands between the rear parking lot of Rippowam School and High Clear Drive. Access through this parking lot was cut off years ago, to eliminate both traffic cutting through the school and criminal activity (drug-dealing, etc.) that the former drive-through allowed. The Rippowam barrier forces the Belltown Fire Department to travel about half a mile further if their assistance is needed at the school, yet no one is calling to remove it. Our concern with Nagi's gate proposal is that, despite any agreements between him and us, a gate can and will be occasionally opened for non-emergency purposes (snow plowing being one example here). So PLEASE lose the gate, Nagi, and re-design the parking lot accordingly.
11/09/11 Late-Night Update:
Many residents have asked if Thursday's public hearing at Turn of River Middle School is still on. The answer is "absolutely." My agreement with Nagi's attorney, John Leydon, was that, in exchange for Nagi's concessions, I would stop organizing against his project (via the stopnagi.com website and phone line, lawn signs, posters, flyers, lapel stickers, etc. (Whew....) Yes, it WAS a lot of work....
But the project still has to gain the Zoning Board's approval to go forward. I will be at Thursday's public hearing, but I will not be handing out lapel stickers and signs there (as I had previously planned to do).
It's after 10 PM, and I just finished today’s update. Sorry for the delay--I had a late call at work....
Yesterday's Elections: Referendum on Our Administration?
First, congratulations to Demetrios Frazis for getting re-elected to his Board of Representatives seat in the 16th District. I know that he worked hard during his campaign. (I saw his literature left at many of the homes that I visited.) His opponent, Joshua Brown, also made a good showing, especially since he is a newcomer. Actually, all of the incumbents kept their respective seats, as described below:
The race for the Board of Finance was (ahem!) a bit different. As an aside, Cynthia Reeder (like Joshua Brown) suffered simply from being a newcomer. But watch for Cynthia in the future, as she is very sharp. (Who knows how well she would have done if she ran on a major-party ticket instead of as an independent?)
As for the rest of the candidates: I would like your opinion on the causes of our Democratic sweep. How much was due to in-fighting among Republican candidates? How much to the unusual mix of Republicans and independents on our ballots? How much to the confusing layout of the ballots themselves? And how much was due to voter discontent with the recent antics of Mayor Pavia's administration vs. those who oppose it? If you haven't read it yet, here's a link to the Advocate article:
Be sure to check out the comments after the article. It seems that Joe Tarzia, Bob Kolenberg, AND Scott Mirkin all suffered in some way from "The Pavia Effect". And (speaking of) this brings us to:
The Ugly Side of Development
I have a confession to make: I voted for Mayor Pavia. In fact, I'm actually related to him. (My late mother was his first cousin, so that makes me his first cousin, once removed.) We never socialized--he probably wouldn't know what I look like if not for Monday's Advocate article--and all I really knew of him was that he was a builder...a developer. I always thought that this seemed to be a wonderful occupation: a developer takes property and enhances its value by building something better on it. What a naive view. I promised Nagi's attorney that I would refrain from any further references to Nagi's project, so I won't say any more. (I've already said it, anyway.)
This, in turn, brings us to:
Our New Zoning Board: a Stacked Deck
I recently told someone that Mayor Pavia is giving developers the keys to our city via by stuffing the Zoning Board with developer-friendly members. That person replied that this is exactly what David Martin had warned voters about when he ran for mayor against Mike Pavia in 2009. (I missed that debate...shame on me.)
So what about the stacked deck in our Zoning Board? Earlier this year, Mayor Pavia nominated Republican Thomas Mills to replace Democratic Zoning Board member David Stein. After some shuffling, Thomas Mills ultimately replaced Audrey Cosentini as the Board's chairperson. Here are two relevant Advocate articles:
And, so, with these two changes, the Zoning Board became staunchly pro-developer. In my opinion, here is how its current members rate in terms of their developer-friendliness:
Thomas Mills: He is a window and door manufacturer himself. He was nominated to the Board by Mayor Pavia. He has demonstrated a consistent pro-developer bias in the last two public hearings that I attended. 'Nuff said.
Harry Parson, Jr.: This is the man who, in response to traffic concerns voiced by fellow Board member Barry Michelson on 10/6/11, said that the Board has the responsibility to view the opinions of experts, not vacuous accusations by non-experts (or something to that effect). This resulted in a brief argument between the two that was stopped only by Thomas Mills' motion to adjourn the hearing that evening.
Maria Nakian: It has been said that Ms. Nakian never saw a development that she didn't like. I had held out a glimmer of hope for her objectivity until I discovered that she had probably lost her seat on the Board of Representatives as a result of her support of the controversial Lake Windermere development off Erskine Road.
Barry Michelson: Mr. Michelson has consistently displayed a degree of objectivity that befits his position on the Zoning Board. He has asked intelligent questions and made equally intelligent observations. Despite his sharp mind, he did not attempt to bully other members. Thus, his street was never posted on this website.
Audrey Cosentini: Ms. Cosentini won me over on October 6th, when she responded to traffic expert Joseph Balskus' claim that a certain development would have a negligible impact on traffic. She said, "I have been on this board for 20 years, and I don't remember hearing a traffic study where there has been an impact."
Why the Compromise with Nagi?
I had previously said that, after the Advocate article appeared on Monday and local politicians started jumping on the bandwagon, Nagi probably felt that "half a loaf is better than none." But he is not the only one who subscribes to this proverb. Look again at those Zoning Board members. I believe that, after Mayor Pavia re-structured the Zoning Board earlier this year, Nagi knew that he would have enough votes to get almost any project approved. And, if his project is approved by the Zoning Board, the next step for opposing homeowners would be to appeal the Board's decision in court.
I actually contacted a local law firm that specializes in such matters. They command a $7,500 retainer, and they charge $395 per hour. Although some of us do have this kind of disposable income, I'm sure that we can all think of better things to do with it. So this is the short version of why I compromised with Nagi. (After all, it's already 10 PM, and I had promised that this update would be ready by late this afternoon.)
My Prediction for Thursday’s Zoning-Board Vote
My prediction is that three members will vote to approve the project and two will vote against it. (I'm sure that you can figure out which member is going to vote which way.) Note that the Board may not actually vote on Thursday; they usually wait until after the public hearing. In any case, we will all know the result soon enough.
11/07/11 Late-Night Update:
Treaty Agreement Reached with Nagi!
It looks like today’s front-page Advocate article about the stopnagi movement made Nagi understand that, to get a little, you have to give a little. I had been negotiating with Nagi’s attorney, John Leydon, for the past week. Both of us spent a lot of time banging our heads against the wall attempting to find common ground between Nagi’s project and the problems that the residents had with it. At first, the most that Nagi would concede to was a reduction in the day-care center from 120 kids to 90 kids. That obviously didn’t get Attorney Leydon and I very far. (By the way, I would love to see Attorney Leydon’s bill for all the time we spent in negotiations. Sorry, Nagi….)
Fortunately for the residents, my prolonged stopnagi campaign happened to dovetail with Election Day campaigning. As one local politician after another scrambled onto the “No Nagi Housing Project!” bandwagon during the past few days, it probably became clear to Nagi that he was (unwillingly) hurting the re-election hopes of some of his supporters. And then there was the “Christmas-Shopping-Season Effect.” The prospect of having a bunch of residents standing in front of his store waving “Honk if You Don’t Want a Housing Project Here!” signs during this critical time of year was probably even worse than the political fallout he was currently enduring.
And so, Nagi--always the businessman--began to see the truth in the old proverb, “Half a loaf is better than none.”
Nagi had been dead-set against building condominiums instead of apartments, since (as he said when we met back on October 4th) he believes that it will take 15 years to sell them all. Despite his obvious misgivings, he finally agreed to build condos instead of apartments. This was a huge win for the residents, since Nagi’s development would have the FIRST apartment complex to be built ANYWHERE on High Ridge Road. (And you can bet that it wouldn’t have been the last….)
Likewise, Nagi had held fast to building 22 units (the maximum that the zoning regs allow) because, well...because he could. As you may remember, the zoning regs would allow him 17 units on his 1-1/2 acre property unless he agreed to a “bonus density” provision, which would have given him five more units in exchange for one more BMR (below-market rate, or low-income) unit. He conceded to forgo the “bonus density” provision and build 17 units instead of 22.
Finally, Nagi was insistent on building a roadway (or “driveway” as he called it) to connect Bradley Place and Maplewood Place. He said that he needed the “driveway” to help traffic flow. Our problem with the “driveway” is that Bradley Place is one of only two exits for 187 homes in Indian Ridge (our development), with the other exit being Shadow Ridge Road. We already have problems from traffic entering and exiting the driveway at the Ridge Plaza shopping center on top of Bradley Place. A “driveway” connecting Bradley Place to Nagi’s project would have made our traffic problem even worse. Nagi reluctantly conceded to totally severing this connection between his project and Bradley Place.
So what is our concession? As with Nagi’s concessions (and as with all compromises), it is a big one—Nagi gets to keep his day-care center for 120 kids. Although the extra 100+ cars per day from the day-care would have had a significant impact on Bradley Place’s traffic of a few hundred cars, this issue became moot when Nagi agreed to omit the cut-through driveway. Yes, this will increase traffic on High Ridge Road. But an extra 100+cars added to the 30,000 cars that travel High Ridge Road every day is a fairly low percentage (less than a percent). And, if Nagi REALLY wants to take the chance of opening up a day-care center below his condo units on a major artery, I wish him the best of luck in his endeavor.
Elizabeth Kim of the Advocate managed to write another great article about our “treaty” in far less time than it took me to type up this missive. Here’s a link to it:
I will write more about the “what-if” and “if-only” aspects of the compromise after the elections tomorrow. And, speaking of, please remember to vote! It is our constitution's First Amendment that made it even possible for me to wage such a strong and prolonged protest campaign against Nagi’s project without repercussion. (Try this in some countries, and you’d be imprisoned for life.) Exercise your rights, or lose them!
Click on the "Rowdy Days!" link (in the black banner near the top of the page)
to see the home-page updates before my compromise with Nagi on 11/7/11.
(We sure had a lot of fun back then, didn't we?)