Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Essential Blumenthal
Recently, Mr. Blumenthal traveled to the Norwalk Inn to celebrate a victory of sorts. Almost eight years ago, the owner of the inn purchased an adjoining property, intending to knock down a house in disrepair that squatted on the property. The owner had no difficulty getting from the town a demolition permit, and he bought the property intending to demolish the long vacant house, which would permit him to expand the Norwalk Inn horizontally.
But the owner’s plans were soon torn asunder. It turned out that the house the property owner wished to level once stood on Grumman’s Hill, no longer there, from which British Revolutionary War Gen. William Tryon watched his troops looting and burning Norwalk. A legend, since discredited, held that Tryon sat in a rocking chair on the hill. The dilapidated house, its windows boarded up and its porch sagging, was very much in need of a patron to restore it.
Blumenthal’s office decided that the patron should be the owner of the Inn, who apparently had purchased a litigatory albatross. In vain did the owner produce his demolition permit. The house, set in an historic district since 1986, was considered historically significant.
Litigation commenced -- and continued for six grueling years, in the course of which, arguing the case himself in Superior Court, Blumenthal maintained the owner had purposely neglected the house he proposed to demolish, frozen for half a dozen years in complex litigation, because he wanted the house to collapse in ruins. Leveling such a meretricious charge is not an effective way to gain friends and influence people, nor could it possibly have improved any negotiation process. The charge urged against Blumenthal by those who oppose his high handed tactics is that he is 90% stick and 10% carrot.
Blumenthal’s charge, as well as the seeming unending litigation, stung because the owner had four years earlier, according to a November, 2006 story in the Norwalk Advocate, proposed to all the disputants in the controversy an offer he thought they could not refuse. The owner offered to refurbish the house or sell it for a dollar to preservationists if he could be certain he would be allowed to add to the Norwalk Inn a third floor, without which he would not be able to afford the rehabilitation.
The inn’s owner, according to the news report, “cited an offer he made in 2002 to save the home if he could build a third story on the inn. Current zoning regulations do not allow a third story.”
The Inn’s owner needed help with a zoning board. He got six years of litigation in the neck.
"The last five years, where were you?” he asked. “We have made offers to you. Nobody responded."
More litigation ensued.
Four years after the knout of litigation, everyone apparently got what they wanted. The owner would restore the house in ruins, a casualty of protracted litigation. It was the time consuming litigation – not any attempt by the owner of the ruined house to sabotage his own property – that brought the house to its knees.
The breakthrough moment came when State Senator Bob Duff and State Representative Larry Cafero intervened to unfreeze the ice. Cafero -- who served as a mediator during the successful year-long negotiation prior to the resolution of the problems – gave a presentation showing the improvements that would be made both to the Norwalk Inn and the historically significant wreck of a house.
Now, at the tail end of the painful process, Mr. Blumenthal would have his moment before the cameras.
At the end of the presentation, Mr. Blumenthal made some brief remarks, as did the President of the Norwalk Preservation Trust and the owner of the inn, pleased that at long last -- pending zoning approval -- he would be given his additional story, without which he could not pick up the tab for repairs. An awkward moment occurred, when Blumenthal mentioned that such legal struggles as occurred during the preceding six years sometimes made friends of the bitterest enemies.
At the end of Mr. Blumenthal’s remarks, Mr. Cafareo said, “Are there any questions? Okay,” and everyone stepped off the dais. There was no pause between Mr. Cafero’s terminal question and his “Okay.” The cameras were immediately shut off.
No one asked the owner of the property if he intended to vote for Mr. Blumenthal, his newfound friend, during the upcoming U.S. senate election.
The cookies provided by the Norwalk Inn owner were irresistible. Mr. Blumenthal, having been suitably attended by the lawyers that came with him and his staff, left on his own steam after a bit of mingling. No awkward moments were recorded after the cameras had been quickly shut down. No hard questions were asked of Mr. Blumenthal. And the abstemious Mr. Blumenthal ate no cookies