City makes case to high court — The (Fairfield County CT) Hour, 10/15/04

By Robert Koch

The city [of Norwalk CT] asked the state Supreme Court Thursday not to hear Maritime Motors' appeal of two lower court decisions clearing the way for seizure of the West Avenue car dealership for the Reed-Putnam Urban Renewal project.

"The boundaries remained the same, the goals remained virtually the same, and the blight in the redevelopment area had not been eliminated completely," wrote attorney Jonathan S. Bowman of Cohen & Wolf PC, the Bridgeport law firm representing the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

"For these reasons, there is no reason for this court to (hear the appeal) based on the Appellate Court's resolution of the blight issue," said Bowman, addressing the evolution of the renewal plan.

The high court is not obligated to hear Maritime Motors' appeal. The court typically accepts or rejects a case after six to eight weeks of review, according to the court clerk's office.

Maritime Motors President Peter Morley has been battling the city for more than a year over the fate of his car dealership at 51 West Ave. and his storage lot at 31 Putnam Ave. The renewal plan seeks to develop 70 acres between Interstate 95 and Norwalk River.

Morley has described the battle as a life-and-death struggle for an established business and its three dozen employees.

Under the plan, West Avenue and Reed Street would be widened into Morley's dealership. Reed Street would be extended through his storage lot and beneath the Metro-North Railroad tracks.

If the high court takes the case, the emergence of the renewal plan in 1983, and Morley's purchase of the property in 2000 likely will resurface.

"(Maritime Motors) knew all about this (plan) before they bought it. It had been on the books and on the public record for 17 years," Bowman said.

State Superior Court in Stamford last fall and the state Appellate Court last month ruled against Morley. On Oct. 4, Morley's attorney petitioned the high court to hear his appeal and throw out the lower court decisions.

The petition, prepared by attorney Michael S. Taylor of the Hartford law firm Horton, Shields & Knox PC, states the city did not attempt to integrate Maritime Motors into the renewal plan and erred by not including a renewed finding of blight in the 1998 revision of the plan.

City officials, Taylor said, "didn't do what they were supposed to do," leaving it unclear "whether the property can be integrated or the property is blighted." In response, Bowman rejects Taylor's argument that development in the Reed-Putnam area since 1983 — The Maritime Aquarium, Heritage Park and building renovations — merited a renewed blight finding in the 1998.

Taylor has argued that the Appellate Court decision sets a bad precedent by giving municipalities a "blank check" to exercise eminent domain powers over private property — whether blighted or not.

Both sides have cited the case of Pequonnock Yacht Club vs. the city of Bridgeport. In 2002, the state Supreme Court concluded that the city "acted unreasonably when (it) failed to consider or even discuss integration of the (yacht club) into the redevelopment plan." Bowman said the Pequonnock decision requires municipalities to make "reasonable efforts" to negotiate and consider integrating non-substandard properties. The case does not, he said, establish a "blanket rule" requiring that consideration

The Hour: www.thehour.com