Metro Center developer threatens lawsuit over staff interference
Now, reinstating Steinke to his traditional oversight role, after a Superior Court judge sided with the citizen group, could mean even more lawsuits.
The Metro Center, a 35-acre site off lower Black Rock Turnpike, includes the town's third railroad station and 1,500-space commuter parking lot, which are under construction. Plans by a private developer to also build a large commercial/retail complex on the site have yet to materialize.
But Gary S. Klein, litigation counsel for Blackrock Realty, the private developer involved in the project -- in partnership with the town and state Department of Transportation -- has sent a letter to the Conservation Commission stating that if Steinke or his staff are reinstated and they "attempt illegally to violate Blackrock's rights under its agreement with the town of Fairfield and/or otherwise unlawfully interfere with the project, Blackrock will take all lawful action to vindicate its rights ..."
Blackrock Realty several years ago threatened to sue the town over what it called "improper interference" by the conservation staff with the project, and First Selectman Kenneth Flatto removed Steinke and his associates from their role overseeing wetlands compliance for the project. The commission then hired an outside consultant, Gary Weddle, to act as the wetlands-compliance officer.
A group of eight Fairfield residents, calling themselves the "Concerned Citizens," filed a lawsuit over Steinke's removal and challenging Weddle's appointment. A recent ruling by Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Richard Arnold held that Weddle's appointment was illegal.
Weddle is appealing that ruling and the commission has agreed to file a brief in support of his appeal. The commission has also voted to appoint Weddle as its "designated agent" for the project and, at the same time, has asked Flatto to consider reinstating the town staff to its role monitoring the project.
In his letter, Klein contends that town conservation staffers "have already stated if the commission reinstates them to oversee the project, they will delay the project by taking an extended period of time -- in excess of several months -- to refamiliarize themselves with the project, a process that we believe is unnecessary and will have a dramatically negative impact on construction."
George Bisacca, the lawyer for the Concerned Citizens, said he finds it difficult to believe that Steinke would make "such outrageously uncharacteristic statements" and unless such allegations can be substantiated by credible evidence, could be considered libelous.
Bisacca said during early construction work on the Metro Center site, which included demolition of the former Bullard foundry, there had been "repeated serious violations" by Blackrock Realty, a characterization that Saxl and Flatto disputed.
A cracked pipe during the demolition was repaired and had no negative impact on the environment, Flatto said, and was brought to the town's attention by Blackrock.
Flatto said he hopes the town will be able to avoid more litigation over the project and its ramifications.