Herbst, Garrity spar over zoning change

This property on lower Main Street could end up as the site of a medical office. Or it could be an affordable housing development. — Donald Eng photo
This property on lower Main Street could end up as the site of a medical office. Or it could be an affordable housing development. — Donald Eng photo

A change in the town’s zoning language in the southernmost part of Trumbull has escalated into a war of words between elected officials with First Selectman Tim Herbst claiming a developer is threatening the town, and others claiming Herbst is encouraging residents to sue Trumbull.

On July 20, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved an amendment to the town’s Professional Office Overlay Zone, which allows professional offices on lower Main Street.

“The zone allows offices in existing homes in the area, or new buildings provided the buildings are under 2,900-square-feet,” said Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Garrity. “The zone also allowed developers to combine zones, but did not include a limit on building size with a combined zone.”

The amended zone allows larger buildings based on the size of the lot, and seemingly clears the way for the Anand Holdings group to propose building an 8,500-square-foot medical building at the 4950 and 5010 Main Street properties, between Botsford Place, which is in Trumbull, and Ochsner Place, which is in Bridgeport. Anand had initially proposed construction of a larger, 14,000-square-foot building on the site in 2014, Garrity said.

Though a medical office would generate more traffic than a pair of homes, Garrity pointed out that the increase would be during business hours, and not on evenings or weekends. Affordable housing units, which would fall under state law and not local zoning regulations, would have a much greater impact on the neighborhood, he said.

With the vote, the issue of the zoning amendment was seemingly settled, but on August 1, First Selectman Tim Herbst sent a letter to the residents of lower Main Street calling the amendment poorly thought out and seemingly not based on sound research, warning that overdevelopment of the area could result.

Herbst criticized the P&Z’s Democratic members, Garrity, Vice Chairman Tony Silber and Dan Helfrich, for voting in favor of the amendment and taking what he called “a cookie-cutter approach” to amending zoning regulations, but said that the amendment would stand “unless an appeal is filed and is successful,” language Democrats have said amounts to an invitation to sue the town.

Herbst denied encouraging legal action, saying he was simply notifying residents that they had a right to appeal the zoning amendment, but conceded that state Superior Court was the only venue where they could seek redress.

The letter drew a sharp response from Rahul Anand, who said his attorneys had spent years addressing lower Main Street concerns and that Garrity had invited neighbors to meetings on numerous occasions.

“Their decision should be respected, not antagonized,” Anand emailed on August 5. “I request [sic] that you get fully up to speed on the amount of time the town and I have spent [sic] addressing this lower Main Street issue. Furthermore, I suggest you be careful with interfering with the natural process that has occurred. I had respected your vision in the past; I hope this isn't some political nonsense that will interfere with a urgent care center development.”

Anand concluded by writing that he was in favor of locating affordable housing units at the site in the event a medical office proved impossible, a statement Herbst dubbed “threatening and extortive.”

“The fact that you think you have the license to threaten a municipality is beyond comprehension,” Herbst replied. “This further underscores my concern that something smells rotten in Denmark as it relates to the commission’s actions last month.”

Garrity said Herbst was placing the residents in a ‘lose-lose’ situation if they challenged the compromise zoning amendment in court.

“Either they spend a lot of money and lose, or they prevail in court, get the amendment overturned and wind up with affordable housing units in the neighborhood,” he said. “This amendment would prevent that, but Tim decided he was against it because he wasn’t the one in control if it.”