Town attorney says Moorefield neighbors 'attacking municipal staff, defaming town volunteers and tarnishing our processes'

An online petition against age-restricted housing on Huntington Turnpike has defamed town volunteers and misrepresented the facts, according to Town Attorney Jim Nugent.

In a statement posted Oct. 29 on the town website, Nugent responded to the petition titled “Stop unethical development and zoning changes in Trumbull.”

“In a general sense, community activism is a positive thing,” Nugent wrote. “When people feel heard, they’re encouraged and empowered.”

But the petition makes a slew of false claims, Nugent said.

“These residents claim ‘unethical development,’ but they present no evidence,” he wrote. “Nor is there any, because the accusations are false.”

In the petition, posted by Huntington Turnpike resident Catherine Fair, a group of about a dozen residents in the area demand the town reject a proposal for 11 age-restricted single family homes at 2157 Huntington Tpke. The site is the former home of Moorefield Herb Farm.

The petition has generated about 500 signatures. Fair was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Nugent’s statement came in response to comments in the petition claiming the public hearing was prematurely shut down. Fair also claimed the project would damage wetlands and cause catastrophic flooding, and that the process essentially was manipulated for the benefit of Matt Reale, a partner in the project and a member of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

The process began in October 2018, when the group Moorefield Farms Development LLC proposed building 16 age-restricted houses on the property. The town zoning regulations, last updated in 2008, allow age-restricted housing in the single-acre zones in town, provided the site is larger than five buildable acres and is located on a state highway. The regulation limits such housing to two age-restricted homes per acre.

The Moorefield site includes 5.97 buildable acres. The original plan called for 16 homes on the site, which would have been 2.75 homes per acre and would have required review from the Inland Wetlands Commission. But the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the zone modification language and the developers then pulled the Inland Wetlands application.

Moorefield Farms has since refiled a new application, this time for 11 homes on the property, with no wetlands incursion and therefore no need to go before Inland Wetlands, according to town Land Use Planner Rob Librandi.

This new application has passed review by a licensed engineer, Nugent wrote.

“There is no disturbance of the upland review area, unlike a previous application, which was withdrawn and is not relevant,” he wrote.

The current application was originally set to be voted on by P&Z Sept. 11, although that meeting had to be postponed because of the difficulty in getting a quorum and the availability of town attorneys. Commissioners Fred Garrity and Larry LaConte, and attorneys James Cordone and Daniel Schopick, have recused themselves from the application, meaning if any of the remaining commissioners or Nugent cannot make a meeting, the meeting cannot take place.

Fair, in her petition, claimed the project was being pushed through without public input.

“Delaying the vote (until after the November election) hurts candidates on both sides,” she wrote. “It helps the Planning and Zoning Commission escape accountability. It helps the developer/applicant to push the project through without public input.”

Fair said 16 local residents had turned out to speak against the project in March 2019, and then again in August 2019. After hearing their complaints, acting Chairman Tony Silber closed the public hearing. The neighbors also sent letters to the editor of the “Trumbull Times” and “Connecticut Post” stating their reasons for opposing the project.

The letters claim “preferential treatment and unfair advantage” had been given to the development group “by town staff and commissioners” and to “follow the money and the insiders.”

“The public has been misled, ducked and avoided, which led to the staged public hearing,” the letter states. “It is clear they are solely serving and acquiescing to Reale’s group while ignoring residents contentions and concerns ...They clearly are using their connections to town hall to avoid proper oversight.”

The letter concludes that Reale “is attempting to use his position in the P&Z department for his personal financial benefit to the detriment of residents’ rights.”

Reale is an elected representative of the Zoning Board of Appeals which would not have oversight of the project.

The petition states the letter was never published in either paper, although both papers published it.

Nugent pointed out that every member of the public who wished to speak during the public hearing had done so.

“For any application, when commissioners feel there is no further clarification required from the applicant and that the public has been heard, they close a hearing,” he wrote. “In this instance, every attendee who wished to speak did so. At length.”

Nugent concluded by stating that he understood people who live in the area might not want 11 more homes on Huntington Turnpike, but said being unhappy with nearby land use did not mean that the process had somehow been conducted wrongly.

“I empathize with people seeking to protect their neighborhoods,” he wrote. “But an emotional investment must never extend to false accusations, attacking municipal staff, defaming town volunteers and tarnishing our processes.”