Former P&Z chairman dropped from affordable housing lawsuit
Updated 5:33 pm, Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Former Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Conze was dismissed from a racial discrimination lawsuit for comments he made about affordable housing, according to a federal judge's Sept. 30 decision.
The town, however, is not.
U.S. District Court Judge Warren W. Eginton granted Conze legislative immunity from the 2011 lawsuit, according to the decision.
The lawsuit was filed November 2011 by Chris Hamer, who in 2008 attempted to build 10 affordable residential condominium units in town. However, according to court documents, Hamer claimed the P&Z denied him permits and engaged with private residents to open a lawsuit against him that resulted in his property being foreclosed on.
The lawsuit also claims the town was attempting to exclude African-Americans from moving into Darien by denying affordable housing projects and keeping housing costs high, according to the lawsuit.
According to the U.S. Census data, there were only 104 African-Americans living in town, which then had a population of 20,732.
The lawsuit was filed by Hamer and Oakview Capital Partners LLC against the Planning and Zoning Commission and Conze.
"The lawsuit goes forward full-speed," said John Williams, the lawyer representing Hamer. "All of the issues proceed."
Town Attorney John Wayne Fox could not be reached for comment.
Conze resigned from the Planning and Zoning Commission in April 2013 after serving for two decades on the panel.
Hamer is suing the town under the 14th Amendment, the Fair Housing Act and the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Act. He is seeking punitive damages, compensatory damages, attorney fees and costs.
The town attempted to have the lawsuit tossed in 2013, but Eginton denied the request.
The defendants sought legislative immunity for Conze "for actions taken within the sphere for legitimate legislative activity as a member of the Darien Planning and Zoning Commission," which the court granted.
During a 2008 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Conze said that an increased density of affordable housing in Darien is a "virus."
"I have to honestly tell you that I look at this as a virus, that once you open the box ... you never get it back in the bottle because it'll be replicated all over town," Conze said during that 2008 meeting.
At the annual town meeting in 2010, Conze again made comments regarding affordable housing
"Our objective is to preserve the character of our town," Conze said at the meeting. "The demographic and economic forces generated by our immediate neighbors to our east and west cannot
be taken lightly. I have spoken of these forces in past town addresses. ... Many view Darien as a housing opportunity regardless of its effect on the character of our town and existing home values."
However, defendants have claimed that Conze's comments were taken out of context and they pertain to rezoning from single-family housing to multi-family housing, "as opposed to affordable housing," according to the judge's decision.
The defendants sought qualified immunity; however, the court denied it as it only pertains to individual defendants, not bodies of government.
The lawsuit is currently in the discovery period and no court date has been set, according to Williams.
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