Judge dismisses three lawsuits filed against Family Y approval
With a Stamford Superior Court judge's dismissal of three lawsuits filed against town approvals of the Westport Weston Family Y's move to Mahackeno, the opposition group Y Downtown is contemplating its next move.
At the same time, the July 20 decision was welcome news to the Family Y. In a prepared statement, Family Y CEO Rob Reeves said, "All aspects of the planning for a new Family Y at Mahackeno -- which began long before I assumed leadership of the association -- have been handled in a thoughtful and responsible manner, a fact that is borne out by the substantial record of approvals over the past four years."
While all the necessary town and state approvals to build the 102,000-square-foot building have been granted, progress has been slowed by litigation. The lawsuits, two filed by Westport resident Arthur Cohen and another by Y Downtown, appealed the Westport Conservation Commission's April 2007 approval of a sewage disposal system that would be installed at the site of the planned building on Sunny Lane.
Indy Goldberg, founder of Y Downtown, said Monday that no decision has been made as to whether the group will appeal the judge's ruling.
"Obviously, we believe that the decision should have been overturned," she said. "But as I have said before ... I believe that P&Z [Planning and Zoning Commission] has broader and more far-reaching issues. I don't think the Y has met the criteria for a special permit and I believe it will be -- or should be -- overturned."
The lawsuit appealing the P&Z decision is still pending, and is expected to be heard later this year.
"It's obviously a great day for the Y," said Iain Bruce, president of the Family Y Board of Directors. "I think it's a good day for Westport because it proves ... that we're doing the right thing. It also proves that the commissions are doing their job."
The dismissal of the three suits pleased Bruce, but he expressed frustration at the possibility of an appeal.
"At what point do these folks concede that we've done this right, that the law is on our side and it's time to move on," he said. "I'd like to see these folks recognize that they have lost every single decision."
Bruce added, "It's very disappointing that such a small group of people can hold up something so good for so long. We've been in the permitting for four and a half years.
At the center of the lawsuits was a wastewater and sewage treatment system dubbed Fixed Activated Sludge Treatment [FAST] facility. The new Family Y would not be connected to the town's sewer lines, so the treatment facility would have to be built underground and on site.
In regard to the conservation approval, allegations in the lawsuits said that the commission "failed to meaningfully consider the failings of the system and the inability of the Town (of Westport) to handle the system as needed" and that certain conditions for approval were invalid because of a 2008 Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in Finley v. Orange.
In his decision, Judge A. William Mottolese wrote in his 25-page opinion that these charges were unfounded.
"In conclusion, contrary to the position of the plaintiffs, the commission gave thorough and meticulous consideration to the effectiveness and reliability of the FAST sewage disposal system," he wrote.
Mottolese added, "Furthermore, the protocol which the commission created after the hearings were closed does not violate the Finley requirement that the record reflect by substantial evidence that the applicant's proposal complied with the applicable statutes and regulations and will not cause harm to the wetlands and watercourses. For these reasons the appeals are dismissed."
Now the only thing in the way of construction is the appeal of the P&Z decision, compliance with various conditions to obtain a building permit, the Y's responsibility to raise the money for building and the possibility of appeals of Mottolese's decision.
Cohen could not be reached for comment.