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Darien spends more than $350,000 to defend Stefanoni lawsuits

Published 2:56 pm, Friday, March 30, 2012
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The tab 2010-2011 Legal Fees PZC Stefanoni, 77 Leroy Avenue $108,958 Other Stefanoni, 149 Nearwater wall violation $225 PZC Stefanoni, Mandamus Actions $2,417 PZC Stefanoni, 57 Hoyt Street $26,816 PZC Stefanoni, 4 Pheasant Run/Tokeneke Road $29,688 Total: $168,104 2011-2012 Legal Fees PZC Stefanoni, 77 Leroy Avenue $70,835 PZC Stefanoni, Technical Review Fees $7,551 PZC Stefanoni, Moratorium Appeal $40,703 EPC Stefanoni, EPC Jurisdiction/Holly Pond $6,861 PZC Stefanoni, Aff. Housing Floating Zone $6,588 PZC Stefanoni, 57 Hoyt Street $18,623 PZC Stefanoni, 4 Pheasant Run/Tokeneke Road $29,848 Total: $181,008
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The numerous lawsuits filed against the town by builders Christopher and Margaret Stefanoni are beginning to add up as legal costs have exceeded $350,000 in the past two years.

According to documents provided by the Planning and Zoning Department, the town accrued $168,104 over the course of 2010-2011. That number increased for 2011-2012 for a total of $181,008.

"Just because these lawsuits are costing us a lot of money doesn't mean the town would make the decision to stop defending them," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. "When you are talking about the lawsuits, you have to keep in mind that these are lawsuits filed against the town. It's not like we're going out and initiating lawsuits."

Last week a state judge ruled in favor of an appeal filed by the Stefanonis to build senior affordable housing at the intersection of Leroy and West avenues after the Planning and Zoning Commission denied the couple a permit in 2008.

Town Counsel Wayne Fox noted an attorney in any case would always consult with a client to determine what they wanted to do.

"In the course of that discussion you would discuss anticipated costs," Fox said.

Defending affordable housing lawsuits is difficult for municipalities because the burden of proof is on the town to prove it is making efforts to expand affordable housing.

"The town has worked particularly hard to make sure affordable housing is expanded and available," he said.

However, he also said it wouldn't necessarily be in the best interest of the town to simply walk away from a lawsuit.

"To walk away and let someone else develop would not be something the town wants. As a municipality you do have the option to control the process somewhat with moratoriums," he said.

Christopher Stefanoni, who has brought seven lawsuits against the town according to the state judicial website, said in a statement he had agreed to what the town wanted at Leroy and West avenues but the town reneged on the deal.

"They think it's cute to be untrustworthy and break agreements. It's not their money, so town leaders have no interest in solving problems but just in extending the litigation," Stefanoni said in a statement. "You can't blame town counsel for being happy to keep taking the money. All I know is that I want justice, so I will never stop fighting and this town will eventually have senior affordable housing in sensible locations."

Darien was awarded a moratorium in 2010 and is eligible to receive its second, and final, moratorium as long as the town can prove it has developed enough affordable housing.

"I'm hopeful we can get another moratorium. We have a great desire to build affordable housing," Stevenson said. "I've spoken with legislators about re-opening the dialogue regarding 8-30g, but we want to be careful how we proceed. There is bipartisan support for making amendments to the statute."

bholbrook@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/bholbrooknews; 203-972-4407