Tall Farm likely to be taken through eminent domain: Huntington (CT) Herald, 6/1/05

By Tom Giordano

If and when the city claims the Tall Farm property off Long Hill Avenue through eminent domain, officials may designate the site for a new municipal golf course.
And in view of action by two city boards last week, seizure of the property appears inevitable.

Both the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) and the Board of Aldermen last week paved the way for the city administration to proceed with plans to take more than 30 acres of Tall Farm property for $2.4 million.

The 33-acre property is bounded on the north by the Views of Long Hill, an age-restricted condominium complex; to the east by Old Coram Road, to the south by homes at the end of Stowe Drive; and to the west by the remaining acreage owned by the Tall family.

Both boards met simultaneously in different rooms at City Hall last Thursday. The P&Z was considering a rezoning request by a private company that had contracted to buy 28 acres from the Tall family to build age-restricted housing, while the aldermen took up the city's plan to take the bulk of the property by eminent domain, primarily for open space purposes.

The Board of Aldermen, with all members present, voted unanimously to authorize "the city to acquire by eminent domain proceedings...30.3 acres of the (Tall Farm) property for open space and recreational purposes," said John "Jack" Finn, the lone Democrat on the eight-member board.

The "recreational purposes" mentioned in the motion, according to Finn, leaves the door open for the city to develop parks or other recreational facilities, such as a city-operated golf course. "The city Parks and Recreation Department has had thoughts of developing a golf course there," Finn said. "And even though I don't play golf, I know its popularity is growing. If the city does decide to go with one, I think it will be widely used."

While the Tall family will keep three acres of the property for personal use, Finn said the city also decided to retain conservation easement and development rights on the additional acreage, which prevents the family from constructing any buildings.

To ensure that, "The city will also acquire by eminent domain an additional 1.9 acres for conservation easement and development rights, which takes in the pond behind the Tall family home and the small garden they maintain," Finn added.

"But the family will still have use of the pond and garden," he said. "They just won't be able to build upon it."

Finn said the city has been negotiating with the Tall family over the past year in an effort to buy the land. "Our corporation counsel advised us that the city met with the family numerous times, but the offers were rejected," he said.

Finn said the city had the property appraised, "and the $2.4 million is what it came out to. The money will be appropriated from the city's capital project fund account for the open space program and recreational purposes."

Shortly after the aldermen voted on the eminent domain issue, "the corporation counsel told the Planning & Zoning Commission about the 8-0 vote," said Rick Schultz, Shelton's zoning administrator.

That prompted a unanimous vote by the four P&Z members present to reject two requests by lawyers for Shelton Realty Associates LLC (in care of Chappaqua Capital Corp. of Pleasantville, N.Y.), which has the contract to buy the 28 acres from the Tall family.

"They [Shelton Realty] wanted a change in the zoning to create a new designation to allow housing for 55 and older, and they were asking that the zoning map be changed," Schultz said.

He said that of the four zoning commissioners present (the full board has six members), "I believe three were regular members, and one was an alternate."

In rendering their decision, the commissioners indicated the city already has an adequate number of sites available that are zoned for age-restricted residential development, Schultz said.

During the aldermen's deliberations on the eminent domain issue, Finn said, a letter from a lawyer representing the Tall family was presented. "It was from Allan J. Rosen, who said in the letter that the city's offer to buy part of the Tall family property had to be rejected because of the contract they have with Shelton Realty," Finn said.

Rosen noted in the letter that the contract gives Shelton Realty the right to buy the property, contingent upon P&Z approval of the requested zoning changes, and that "because of the constraints of the contract..." the city's offer "must be rejected at this time."

Meanwhile, Austin K. Wolf, a lawyer representing Shelton Realty, has filed a mandamus action against the P&Z in Milford Superior Court, a legal action that asks the court to require the P&Z to perform its statutory duty and act on the rezoning applications.

Named as plaintiffs in Wolf's complaint, filed May 12, are Shelton Realty, and Lillian A. Tall, Stephen J. Tall, William A. Tall, and Edward G. Tall, all of 628 Long Hill Ave. The Shelton P&Z is named as defendant.

In the complaint, Wolf alleges that the P&Z conducted a public hearing on the applications on Dec. 14, 2004, and continued the hearing until Jan. 25, 2005, when it was closed.

Wolf notes in the complaint that state statutes "mandate the commission render its decision [on the applications] within 65 days after completion of the hearing..." unless the P&Z requests an extension, and that extension is for "no longer than an additional 65 days."

The commission did request that extension, according to Wolf's complaint, and the plaintiffs agreed, setting a deadline of April 30. But because the P&Z failed to render a decision on the rezoning applications by the deadline, Wolf filed the mandamus action.

A "show cause" hearing was scheduled in Milford Superior Court for 9:30 a.m. yesterday (May 31), in which the P&Z would have to show why the mandamus should not be granted.

That "show cause" hearing was withdrawn, Wolf said, "in view of the aldermen's decision last week."

Wolf said his next course of action in the matter will be decided "when we see what the city does."

"As of now, the board has only approved resolutions," he said. "If the city begins to implement the eminent domain process, we will take appropriate action."

When contacted last week, Stephen J. Tall declined to comment on the actions taken by the P&Z and Board of Aldermen.

Huntington Herald: www.zwire.com