Appeal over stone wall hits courts

Two years after the Conservation Commission ordered residents of Northside Lane to remove a stone wall lining two sides of their property, the dispute landed in Stamford Superior Court on Tuesday.

Albert and Susan Hancock are appealing the Commission's "cease and correct" order from October 2007, which called for the wall's dismantling, on the grounds that it encroached into a 30-foot setback regulation for wetlands.

Litigation lasted all day Tuesday but did not finish. The parties will likely return to court in December or January, said Town Attorney Ira Bloom.

The stone wall, which was reportedly built without necessary permits between April and August 2005, begins along North Avenue, just a handful of yards from the side of the Hancock's house. It runs slightly uphill to the intersection with Northside Lane, then wraps downhill in front of the house to the opposite edge of the front yard.

On the one hand, the wall serves as a safety barrier for a difficult intersection that slopes downhill into the Hancock's front yard. On the other hand, a brook passes through that front yard, making the area a wetland.

"The cease and correct order said officially that they had to remove the wall because it is in the wetlands setback area," said Bloom. "The judge has to decide whether the commission acted properly."

Attorneys for the Hancocks declined to comment for this article.

According to Westport News records, the Flood and Erosion Control Board determined in April 2006 that the wall does not interfere with the flow of Willow Brook because it runs over the water. But the Board of Selectmen denied an encroachment waiver a month later because of several other violations.

While the current court battle aims to resolve the matter between the Conservation Commission and the Hancocks, several issues remain outstanding. The length of wall running along North Avenue sits several feet on town property, said Bloom. And much of the wall running along Northside Lane sits on property owned by all residents of the street.

As a result, said Bloom, there remains a zoning violation to be resolved with the town. Also, as the wall serves as a retaining wall, it requires a building permit, Bloom said.

A private lawsuit is also outstanding, filed by Jeffrey and Elizabeth Lillien, neighbors of the Hancocks who live at the far end of Northside Lane.

Said Bloom, "We've been trying for some time to negotiate a resolution, but it hasn't happened so this case is going forward and that's where we are."