Following persistence and legal expertise by retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, the Bridgeport Historic District Commission Thursday night reversed an after-the-fact violation that led to the dubious installation of a driveway with a gate and curb cut at a house facing Washington Park. A certificate of appropriateness should have been obtained because the property is located in a historic district. A lawyer for the City Attorney’s Office, subsequent to Lopez’s inquiry, describes the permit as a “fraudulent application.”
Lopez stepped up on behalf of former City Councilman Bob Halstead, an adjacent property owner, in the Pemboke Historic District on the East Side.
As Lopez noted in a recent OIB commentary, see here, city officials ignored the prerequisite certificate and issued the permit.
Lopez had brought this to the attention of the commission chair who declared it had no enforcement powers. Well it does, confirmed in a letter by a state agency that oversees historic districts in Connecticut.
Thursday night a lawyer for the City Attorney’s Office showed up with an opinion letter validating Lopez’s legal position. The work done there must be removed.
Parking meters, Water Pollution Control Authority collection practices, dubious land use decisions are issues that have caught the attention of Lopez who has faced off and faced down government decisions at the point of a legal bayonet. It raises questions about common folks vulnerable to dubious decisions by government bureaucracy. How often does this happen when they don’t have the legal expertise of a Lopez (who volunteers her time) at their disposal?
Lopez shares her take on the meeting:
And the beat goes on …
Thanks to Lennie Grimaldi, Only in Bridgeport, and Robert Halstead, the role of the Historic District Commission in Bridgeport City Government has been exposed and can now be reviewed and analyzed.
Finally, after dancing the bureaucratic merengue all summer, the Historic Commission took a position and voted on the violation of its rules.
There we were, concerned residents and the interested parties, braving thunder and lighting, flooding and winds, seeking relief from plain and unambiguous city error.
Four members of the Commission took their seats and cast the audience a serious look as the Chairman Stuart Sachs, proceeded to open the meeting.
All of a sudden, like an apparition in one of those old movies, a member of the City Attorney’s Office stood up and reported that he was asked by Chief City Attorney to attend the meeting to present the Commission with a City Attorney opinion, and copies of the application for the driveway permit and the Permit.
Attorney Michael Jankovsky, a recent hire in the City Attorney’s Office, was the designated hitter for the game of governing, known as Bridgeport municipal government.
He distributed a copy of an email he sent to Dennis Buckley and Paul Boucher on July 26, 2018, a few weeks after I submitted my Position Statement to the Historic District Commission. Attached to his email was his opinion letter, also dated July 26, 2018.
As soon as the Commissioners received their copy, they naturally took time to review the contents. A copy of the opinion is attached for the reader’s review.
Is it just me, or is there something out of order, to have a City Attorney opinion, such as it is, distributed to the staff of the Zoning Department and not distributed to the decision makers, the members of the Historic District Commission?
Well, it was just one of those only in Bridgeport moments!
No sooner had Attorney Jankowsky distributed his momentous opinion, than he disappeared from the meeting, just like an apparition.
Well, the opinion simply states what we all knew; the Zoning enforcing officer has authority to enforce the Historic District standards.
Did the opinion instruct Mr. Buckley to enforce this violation with action?
No, it did not!
Mr. Jankovsky recommended that Mr. Buckley serve an order to comply on the offenders. He didn’t advise him to take action, did not instruct him to take action, but instead, recommended that he take action.
Many times during the Commissioners’ deliberations, they expressed a need for legal advice and guidance. I am convinced that the commissioners were genuinely trying to rule according to the law and reach a just decision.
Many times they appeared confused about the law and what the limits of their authority actually were.
They struggled with the language needed to make a clear ruling.
It was clear that the Department of Public Facilities and all of its various divisions, had made a serious mistake and should be held accountable. Sadly, it was also clear, that the Chairman “did not want to go there” and cast blame on a City Department. Someone else can do that, but not the Historic District Commission.
The Commissioners should have been able to ask their legal counsel, but sadly, they cannot rely on the City of Bridgeport’s $5 million per year legal department.
The City Attorney’s Office is too busy telling City Council members what to do, how to vote and what is acceptable to their real client, the Mayor and his team of advisors.
This peek into an important land use board’s process only provides additional evidence for the taxpayers of this City to demand that the Office of the City Attorney be held accountable for its duties.
It is remarkable that the Commission actually voted to notify the owners that the illegal driveway must be removed due to the clear violation of the law.
Now, the question remains, will Dennis Buckley enforce this ruling?
Stay tuned …
Jankovsky July 26 opinion letter to Zoning Administrator Dennis Buckley:
I am in receipt of your Request for Legal Services, dated July 10, 2018. City Ordinance 2.98.050 provides that the Department of Land Use Construction Review (LUCR) shall be the enforcing agency for the Historic District Commission. City Charter Ch. 19, Sec. 1 defines LUCR as consisting of the “the planning and zoning authorities of the city, building department and any other agencies responsible for historic preservation and land use regulation activities.” As LUCR includes the zoning department, the zoning enforcement officer has authority to enforce Historic District standards.
Furthermore, General Statutes 7-147h provides that the Historic District Commission itself may institute an action in Superior Court. The Court can order violations to be corrected or removed, as well as, issue fines set forth in the statute.
In addition to the Historic District violations, it also appears that the owners filed a fraudulent application for a curb cut, claiming that they intended to replace a driveway, when none had previously existed. Finally, the new driveway may have resulted in other zoning violations, such as exceeding allowable lot coverage. I recommend that the zoning enforcement officer serve an order to comply regarding all issues.