Judge hears arguments on senior housing proposal

The former UnitedHealth building at 48 Monroe Turnpike was the subject of court action after a legal challenge to the Planning & Zoning Commission's decision to grant a zone change.

The former UnitedHealth building at 48 Monroe Turnpike was the subject of court action after a legal challenge to the Planning & Zoning Commission's decision to grant a zone change.

Donald Eng /

Developers and attorneys for and against the proposed Rivers Edge senior living development on Route 111 were in court Monday, with Judge Dale Radcliff issuing a few small but potentially significant rulings.

Former First Selectman Tim Herbst, who represents three residents of the Woodland Hills condominium complex who are trying to get a zone change allowing the development overturned, confirmed Tuesday morning that Radcliffe had requested communications between Economic Development Director Rina Bakalar and the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, and had also requested a copy of a legal opinion that Commission Chairman Fred Garrity had read from before the commission voted 4-1 to approve the zone change.

“The judge agreed that because he read from the legal opinion, he had therefore waived attorney-client privilege,” Herbst said.

Garrity had secured the legal opinion from William Bloss of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder on whether some consulting work he had performed amounted to a conflict. The issue of a potential conflict came up after Herbst had complained that Garrity’s company, FTG Strategic Partners, had produced a training video in 2017 for Standard Motor Products Inc., a 100-year-old New York-based company that Tom Tesoro, husband of First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, works for.

Garrity had read an excerpt from the legal opinion that no conflict “real or possible” existed.

“He [Herbst] had made the accusation, and I sought a legal opinion,” Garrity said. “I read from the relevent section — that there was no conflict — but the judge wants to see the entire letter, and I have absolutely no problem with that.”

Radcliff also requested Bakalar clarify what communications she may have had with zoning officials outside of the public meetings. Bakalar was out of town this week and not available for comment.

On the other requests Herbst had made - to add several hundred pages of documents that he had obtained through FOI requests and to conduct four depositions, Radcliffe denied the motions, according to Town Attorney James Nugent.

“The judge denied roughly 99 percent of what they [the plaintiffs] were looking for,” Nugent said.

Once the additional items are added to the record, Nugent said the next step would be to submit legal briefs either in support or in opposition to the zone change appeal. Radcliffe would then likely set a final hearing date. This is unlikely to happen before the fall, though.

“It’s normally a 30 to 60-day process,” he said.

Rivers Edge is a proposed 350-unit mixed residential facility that would consist mostly of active adult, independent and assisted living apartments, plus about 16 memory care units. The property is located at 48 Monroe Tpke., which most recently served as the regional headquarterss of United Healthcare (formerly Oxford Health Plans) from 1995 to 2015. The current 253,000-square-foot office building and 145,000 square-foot parking garage have been vacant since 2015.

The plan for the property, according to developers Mark DePecol and Tommy Haendler, is to adapt the office building into an assisted living and independent living facility of about 200 units. The existing garage would be reused for parking and selectively filled in to form an age-restricted residential building with about 150 units for adults 55 and older.

“The resulting site will include less asphalt, more landscaping, less parking, and generate less traffic as compared to the office building,” said attorney John Knuff, who represents the developers. Knuff added that the development would provide a way for “downsizers” to remain in the community while having access to services available as needed. Knuff said the development would generate about $2 million in tax revenue, roughly four times what the town collected when it was office space.

Knuff disputed claims from the plaintiffs, which also include Old Mine Associates, owners of the adjacent Home Depot property, that the development would affect traffic and property values, calling such claims “inconsistent with everything known about real estate valuation” and stating that traffic should be far less, and more spread throughout the day, than the property’s former use as an office building.