WESTPORT — The town’s Historic District Commission voted to deny approval for construction of a new house on a historic property in Greens Farms, and now the developers have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the decision.
Greens Farms Developers LLC, which for the last several months sought Historic District Commission approval for construction of a new house at 20 Morningside Drive South, filed an appeal against the HDC’s decision in State Superior Court in Stamford on Jan. 31.
“In denying the application, the Historic District Commission acted illegally, arbitrarily and inconsistently with the historic district statutes,” the lawsuit states, adding “the plaintiff is aggrieved by the decision.”
The two lots, which comprise the 2.3- acre 20 and 26 Morningside Drive South. Local Historic District across from Greens Farms School, is made up of an Italianate-style farmhouse and artists studio juxtaposed on either side of a pastoral meadow.
Two artists, Naiad and Walter Einsel, lived in and produced their artwork for over 45 years on the property and, at Naiad’s urging, the property was designated a Local Historic District in 2007, which means any building changes on the property require HDC approval. Naiad died in 2016 (Walter passed away in the ’90s) and the property was sold to Greens Farms Developers.
The HDC denied the application, saying the proposed house is too large and eliminates the rural nature of the property, which “remains as a remnant of the historically agrarian character of the Greens Farms area of Westport,” according to the HDC’s decision.
Greens Farms Developers’ appeal challenged the decision, arguing 20 Morningside is “an approved building lot” and the “lot does not fall within the statutory definition of a rural environment.”
In addition, the appeal claims HDC predetermined its decision to deny approval of any of the developer’s 10 proposed house designs. “The HDC and/or its members by their comments on the record and in various press reports has made it clear that they intended to say no to any design to prevent the plaintiff from building any residence on the lot,” the appeal reads.
Neither Greens Farms Developers’ attorney, Fairfield-based Frederic Ury, nor town Assistant Attorney Eileen Flug agreed to comment, both citing they don’t speak on pending litigation.
HDC Coordinator Carol Leahy said she’s unfamiliar with legal challenges to HDC decisions because the HDC was last sued in 2006, before Leahy assumed her role on the HDC in 2007.
“I think, hopefully, we’ve technically done everything correctly and the decision of the committee was based on the findings which were very carefully thought out and written,” Leahy said.
HDC Chairman Randy Henkels said the committee’s decision is on solid ground. “I think the decision was in our range of authority relative to local historic districts and a responsible decision to the owner who designated the property as a historic district,” Henkels said.
The town has until Feb. 27 to respond to the appeal in court.