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Judge extends appeal period for zoning case related to historic property

By John Fitts

Staff Writer


HARTFORD/COLLINSVILLE –Connecticut Superior Court Judge Edward V. O’Hanlan has granted an extension in the appeal period for a court decision related to the Industrial Heritage Zone (IH1) that regulates redevelopment of the former axe factory complex in Collinsville. 

In early February of this year, O’Hanlan dismissed a 2021 appeal of changes the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission had made to the IH1 Zone. On Feb. 16, 2024, the party who brought that challenge to court asked for more time to consider whether to appeal the decision, a request the judge has now granted. 

In August of 2021, the Canton Planning and Zoning commission made changes to the IH1 Zone, adopting, with some tweaks, most of the changes requested by Sheldon Stein of New York-based Ranger Properties, who at the time was planning to redevelop the factory but has since dropped out of the project, reportedly for health reasons. He was later released as a party in the appeal. The legal proceeding, however, continued because the changes would affect how a future development plan could be crafted.

The changes were considered text amendments, with corresponding changes to the master plan for the zone, which covers the 19-acre site on which The Collins Company, a world-famous manufacturer of edge tools, operated from 1826 to mid 1966. Today, dozens of businesses operate in several buildings at the site, but some of its structures are in disrepair and a series of buildings were demolished last year following directives from the town. Redevelopment has long been a goal by many in town but how that should be done is a topic of much debate in town. 

While it contemplated new buildings and a mixed-use plan, Stein did not get to the stage of a specific site plan with construction-level details.

In September of 2021, Tyler Nye of Scranton, Pa., who owns 15-17 Spring St. in Collinsville, filed the administrative appeal to the zoning changes, alleging the commission acted “illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously and abused its discretion” in making the changes and didn’t consider potential “negative effects” or “feasible and prudent alternatives.”  

The appeal raised issue with decisions such as the elimination of several special permits needed for a project, required setbacks, changes to the language dealing with architectural standards and more. It also conducted the changes were solely for the benefit of the developer at the expense of the public. 

In February of 2023 Connecticut Superior Court Judge Edward V. O’Hanlan heard oral arguments in the case. 

“The record doesn’t support that that decision was made for the public’s interest,” Nye’s attorney, Graham W. Moller of Cramer and Anderson in New Milford said during those proceedings. “The record supports, in the comments from commissioners during discussion in August of 2021 … that the amendments were ultimately adopted to benefit Mr. Stein economically, to benefit him in order to pursue sort of development by any means necessary at the exclusion of consideration of the public’s interests.” 

Moller also contended that removal of the special permit for earthwork and grading represented a threat to the environment. 

The commission’s attorney, Kenneth R. Slater, Jr. of Halloran & Sage LLP in Hartford, refuted the allegations in the appeal and said that many regulatory steps involving several commission and other oversight remain in place 

“Here we have a historic axe factory that’s falling in on itself and when [commission members] learn by way of an application that there’s some things that they can do to streamline the process, to allow it to be developed, whether it be by Mr. Stein or some future developer - that was determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission to be in the best interest of the community. That’s something that Connecticut case law is very strongly in favor of - not having judicial interference of that kind of legislative judgment.”

On Feb. 1, 2024, the judge officially dismissed the case, contending that the plaintiff had not met the burden of proof for the allegations. 

“In Sum, plaintiff has failed to sustain his burden to prove that the commission acted illegally, arbitrarily or in abuse of its discretion in amending its regulations,” the judge wrote in part. “The record, including written submissions, the public hearing and the deliberations of the commission reflects the intended legislative process of a zoning board – confronted with deteriorating conditions on an important site that it had expressly targeted for redevelopment without success over a period of approximately 50 years – pondering a new redevelopment idea with proposed text amendments and discussing them as it perceived the circumstances and the interests of the community to be. It is clear that the legislature intended, subject to certain underlying principles, that finding solutions to zoning questions should be left to local authority. Morningside Assn. v. Planning & Zoning Board, 162 Conn. 154. 163 (1972).”

On Feb. 16, 2024, Moller filed a request for an extension in the appeal period from Feb. 21 to March 12, 2024. While that doesn’t assure an appeal, the document raises the possibility. 

“In this case, good cause is shown by the need to provide potential appellate counsel with the time necessary to examine the record to determine whether there are meritorious issues that can be raised on appeal,” Moller wrote. “Plaintiff further contends that granting the extension sought herein will promote judicial economy. Without the extension Plaintiff would be compelled to file an appeal to protect its appellate rights. In contrast, providing an extension of time to appeal will ensure that an appeal is not filed unless there is a good faith basis for doing so.”

On Feb. 20, 2024, the judge officially granted the request for an extension of the appeal period. 

As of press time, no further action had taken place. 

The Valley Press has gone into much greater detail on this story in several articles over the past few years. Most of those can still be found at https://www.valleypressextra.com/ We will also monitor the case for any additional updates. 

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