Hines Sight / Late arriving, vindication on Metro Center still sweet
Published 6:27 am, Friday, August 17, 2012
I vowed to myself (probably to you too but I can't remember) that I was done commenting on anything to do with the controversial Fairfield Metro Center project.
But I'm breaking that promise because the latest news from that front is just too good to pass up.
This month, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a ruling vindicating a group of Fairfield residents that, since 2008, has been fighting the political machine known as town government. They call themselves "Concerned Citizens of Fairfield." We all should take a page from their book on how to get something done. The road to their latest success has not been an easy one, but still they persevered.
At the center of the group's arguments was the removal by then-First Selectman Ken Flatto, backed up by former Town Attorney Richard Saxl, of the town's conservation director in late 2007 from any oversight of the train center project, which includes a huge private development. The entire project is one of the largest in town in decades and involves the site of a former factory, which presented major environmental concerns, along the Ash Creek. At the time, Flatto and company contended that Conservation Director Thomas Steinke and his staff were making unreasonable demands on the developer, who allegedly threatened to sue the town if something wasn't done about them.
The Concerned Citizens objected to Steinke's removal and the subsequent appointment by the Conservation Commission of Gary Weddle to a wetlands compliance officer position. Additionally, when the commission appointed Weddle it did so with the proviso that he report directly to the commission, not Steinke. The citizens group believed -- and now has been proven right, again -- that the conditions of the appointment of Weddle violated the town charter.
I say proven right "again" because the Concerned Citizens brought their beliefs and evidence to a trial court, which agreed with them. Weddle and the commission challenged that decision and appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court's decision reads: "By ordering Weddle to report directly to the commission, the commission effectively usurped the conservation director's role as the direct supervisor of the wetlands compliance officer."
In upholding the lower court's ruling, the state Supreme Court wrote, "We conclude that the trial court properly determined that the commission appointed Weddle to the office of wetlands compliance officer in a manner that did not comply with the conditions enumerated in ... the town charter."
You might think this issue is settled, but town government has a way sometimes of not following the rules, as we have now been told. The ruling requires the commission to reinstate the conservation director to his oversight role of this project. Although the train station portion is essentially done, there are still facets of the overall plan yet to be tackled. In fact, the developer, Blackrock Realty, is proposing to change the original plan for a retail building on the property to a multi-unit apartment complex. The developer was scheduled to make his case before the commission last night.
The Concerned Citizens -- Ed Bateson, Alexis Harrison, Jeanne Konecny, Phil Meiman, Pam Ritter, Les Schaffer, Joy Shaw and Jane Talamini -- have been much maligned over the years. But what they did was have the wherewithal to challenge our government -- something the rest of us should have guts to do too.
Unfortunately, though, Phil Meiman didn't get to relish this victory. He died in 2010.