Race lawsuit to be defended by Darien's insurance carrier
A housing developer has filed a lawsuit against the Darien Planning & Zoning Commission as well as its chairman, Fred Conze, claiming he was denied an affordable housing permit because of the town's effort to exclude minorities from Darien.
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 28 by Chris Hamer, who, in 2008, attempted to build 10 affordable residential condominium units in town. However, according to court documents, Hamer claimed P&Z denied him permits and engaged with private residents to open a lawsuit against him which resulted in his property being foreclosed on.
"The defendants have followed a pattern of official misconduct designed to exclude African-Americans from the town of Darien, by keeping housing costs prohibitively high and preventing the construction of affordable housing units which would be attractive to minorities," court documents state.
Town Counsel Wayne Fox, who was unable to comment on the lawsuit previously until he had reviewed the situation, said residents should be aware of other issues in town that refute the claims of race discrimination.
"I just want to say that we do not debate lawsuits in the news media but there are issues people should be cognizant of in town. The Allen O'Neill project required 8-30g and other projects have gone through Planning & Zoning, including Avalon, that needed approval," he said.
Currently, Fox estimated Darien is one of only four communities able to acquire enough affordable housing points to earn a moratorium.
Hamer filed an appeal with Connecticut Superior Court after the permits were denied, but lawsuits were brought against Hamer which resulted in "the defendants succeed (ing) in so increasing the plaintiffs' costs that the subject property was lost to foreclosure and the plaintiffs were unable to proceed with their affordable housing proposal. Thereupon, the aforesaid appeal was dismissed as moot," according to court document.
The document alleges the town rejected the permit because it wanted to prevent people of African American ancestry from living in Darien.
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.
Hamer's attorney, John Williams, said the lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the reasons given for not granting Hamer the permit for his affordable housing development were "bogus." He said comments made by P&Z Chairman Conze about affordable housing being a "virus" were a smoking gun in the case against the town.
Williams also addressed the lawsuits brought against Hamer by neighbors, which ultimately lead to his property being foreclosed on, as they show the town was engaging in unfair practices.
"The neighbor brought a lawsuit against my client which alleged the affordable housing project was not real and that my client wanted to build an upscale development," Williams said. "The reason that lawsuit is included in our lawsuit is because the neighbor wanted my client to sign a release which also demanded my client release town officials. He wanted the town officials released because they had been working with him on the lawsuit."
Fox said he was aware of lawsuits brought against Hamer but said the town was not involved in any of them. He said Hamer originally intended to build a subdivision but after neighbors raised objections he applied for an 8-30g application.
"He wanted to sub-divide the property to sell off a lot and shortly after that the project met with objections from neighbors," Fox said. "There were also concerns about serious drainage issues on the property."
The lawsuit has been handed over to the town's insurance carrier which will defend the case, Fox said. As far as allegations about the town being biased, Fox didn't believe it was accurate.
"To say this issue is based on race is inaccurate," he said.
Ultimately, Williams said the intention of the lawsuit is to get compensation for his client as well as the possibility Darien will change its policies in regards to affordable housing.