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Lowe v. Planning and Zoning Commission of Town of Mansfield

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2018

JANET LOWE, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF MANSFIELD, et al. Defendants.

          RULING RE: MOTIONS TO DISMISS (DOC. NOS. 118 & 119)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Janet Lowe, Amin M. Keshwani, Ling-Chuan Chu, Helen Jane Fried, and Maryllyn Donna Fairfield (collectively “plaintiffs”) bring this action against the Town of Mansfield, the Town of Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission (“PZC”), Paul Shapiro, Matthew Hart, Linda M. Painter, and JoAnn Painter (“Mansfield defendants”) for alleged deprivations of rights under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and municipal zoning regulations arising from the procedure used to approve a special permit application for a two-bedroom efficiency unit. Plaintiffs also bring a claim for private nuisance against Adam Lambert (“Lambert”), the owner of the residence that won approval from the PZC.

         The Fourth Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 116) alleges violations of section 8-23 of the Connecticut General Statutes, “Preparation, Amendment or Adoption of Plan of Conservation and Development” (Count One); violations of the right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code (Count Two); and violations of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3604, and section 1982 of title 42 of the United States Code (Count Three) against the Mansfield defendants. The Fourth Amendment Complaint also brings a claim for private nuisance against Lambert (Count Four).

         Lambert moved to dismiss Count Four (Doc. No. 118) and the Mansfield defendants moved to dismiss Counts One, Two, and Three (Doc. No. 119). For the reasons that follow, both Motions to Dismiss are granted and the Fourth Amendment Complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs live in the neighborhood of Mulberry Village in the Town of Mansfield, Connecticut. 4th Am. Compl. at ¶ 1. Janet Lowe, Helen Jane Fried, and Maryllyn Donna Fairfield are over the age of 65 and have disabilities as defined by the FHA. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 10, 11. Amin M. Keshwani and Ling-Chuan Chu also reside in Mulberry Village. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9.

         On May 7, 2015, Adam Lambert submitted a special permit application for a two-bedroom efficiency unit in Mulberry Village, which is zoned as a single-family district. Id. at ¶ 26. According to a zoning agent, the application was the first two-bedroom efficiency unit request in over twenty years. Id. at ¶ 26. The Zoning Regulations of the Town of Mansfield, Article X, Section L1 govern consideration of applications for efficiency units. Id. at ¶ 27. The statement of purpose provides:

This amendment will meet an identified need to provide housing for immediate family members, usually the parent(s) of either spouse. In addition, it will also allow young individuals, or couples another housing option when unable to purchase houses, given the rapid and expected continued increase in the price of the conventional single-family unit. The efficiency unit may also act as a source of income for financially overburdened families (emphasis added). It also may allow the elderly to continue to live in their own homes knowing there is someone else on the premises in case of emergency.

Id. Lambert's application did not state that he is “financially overburdened.” Id. at ¶ 28.

         On June 2 and June 10, 2015, the PZC notified the public that a hearing on the special permit application for the efficiency unit at 17 Olsen Drive was scheduled. Id. at ¶ 30. The notice did not indicate that the application was for a “non-compliant commercial use” or that the Town's Article X income eligibility requirement for the commercial use of an efficiency unit had been amended. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31, 92. The Mansfield defendants also did not publicize that “the Town's Article X's [sic] income eligibility requirement for the commercial use of an efficiency unit had been legislatively changed” despite a requirement that proposed changes to town zoning regulations be publicized and discussed at a public hearing. Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.

         On June 15, 2015, the PZC held a public hearing to consider the Lambert special permit application. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 31. When a PZC member raised the efficiency unit income eligibility requirement at the meeting, JoAnn Goodwin, the PZC Chairperson, stated that the PZC could not consider income eligibility when considering the Lambert special permit application. Id. at ¶¶ 45-46, 68, 82. Linda M. Painter, the Director of Zoning and Development, stated that the Town has a “pattern and practice of not considering the Article Ten income eligibility requirement or considering protected class disparate impact assessments when assisting the PZC with draft approval motions.” Id. at ¶¶ 48, 70, 80, 83. The PZC determined that it could not consider harm to the elderly with disabilities when considering the special permit application. Id. at ¶ 3, 65. Plaintiffs allege that the permit was granted without prior notice of new zoning legislation or consideration of the long-term disparate impact on Fried and Lowe specifically and the elderly with disabilities in Mulberry Village in general. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 65, 101, 103. Notice of the PZC's decision was published in The Chronicle on June 22, 2015. Id. at ¶ 94.

         After the zoning decision approving Lambert's application and its appeal to the Superior Court, Ben Shaiken-then a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and currently the Town Counselor-visited Lowe's home and told her that her appeal was a waste of taxpayer money. Id. at ¶ 49. Although plaintiffs requested the transcript of the deliberations over the Lambert special permit application, the transcript they received “established that the PZC did not render a decision on a Lambert property at 17 Olsen Drive but on a parcel identified as 17 Nelson Drive.” Id. at ¶¶ 106-08.

         As a result of deforestation and movement of soil on Lambert's property, the surface water drainage from the Lambert property to the Keshwani and Chu property “was altered in November of 2016.” Id. at ¶ 37. The Town of Mansfield issued a stop work notice to Lambert on November 7, 2016, because he did not have a permit for construction on his property, the building was larger than the dimensions the Town had approved, and an assessment of the retaining wall between the Lambert and Keshwani and Chu property was needed. Id. at ¶ 38. Keshwani has repeatedly asked Lambert to keep his chickens and dogs off of the Keshwani and Chu property and to conform his outdoor fires to the “town permit assessment, ” but to no avail. Id. at ¶¶ 39-40. Lambert has also not heeded Keshwani's requests that Lambert not move his earth moving equipment through an “unauthorized driveway” that passes through Keshwani's property. Id. at ¶¶ 41-42. Finally, Keshwani believes that, rather than erect the 10 by 10-foot shed that the Town had approved in Lambert's special permit application, Lambert will be constructing a 10 by 26-foot structure where his father will store heavy land moving equipment from his construction business. Id. at ¶ 43.

         The values of the Keshwani and Chu property and the Fried and Fairfield property have been reduced as a result of the introduction of the Lambert residence, which they suspect will be a rental unit, in a single-family zoned district. Id. at ¶¶ 50, 51, 72, 86. Keshwani, Chu, Fried, and Fairfield allege that they have been harmed by the Mansfield defendants' “actions and policies that led to the granting of the Lambert permit for commercial use in [their] neighborhood; by the predictable resultant segregation of elderly people with disabilities away from [their] neighborhood; by [their] loss of ease in feeling free to walk in the Mulberry Village neighborhood with its unlawful expansion of commercial use traffic; and by the litigation costs associated with protecting [their] rights.” Id. at ¶¶ 54, 59, 75, 89.[2] The plaintiffs do not appear to allege that anyone has moved into the Lambert property or that there has been an actual increase in traffic in Mulberry Village.

         III. ...


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