EDITOR'S NOTE: Is it possible the Sisters had compelling reasons to believe they needed to protect themselves after the maneuvers cited in the May 8 story and other stories?
... Just wondering: Since when do Troiano, Tallarita, DiPace & Co.
play by the rules that govern most citizens and taxpayers?
Talks, records undermine
political land-grab theory
over Enfield Montessori School parking lot
By:Alex Wood , Journal Inquirer
ENFIELD - There has been persistent speculation around town and in an Internet blog that disputes between two town boards and the Enfied Montessori School over parking stemmed from a land grab by politically connected developers hoping to consolidate the school property with two neighboring parcels for construction of houses or condominiums.
Gladys F. Anderson, the owner of one of those properties, told the Journal Inquirer recently that someone has placed a deposit on her land.
But that someone isn't a housing developer. It's a church that Anderson understands to be acting on behalf of the Felician Sisters, the Roman Catholic religious order that runs the Montessori School.
Anderson said she understands that the sisters are interested in building an addition to the school on her property, a 6.4-acre interior lot off Enfield Street just south of the Montessori School property.
"They have six grades there, and I think they'd like eight," said Anderson, who inherited the property in 2000 from her late husband, Norman C. Anderson.
Gladys Anderson, who lives on Booth Street, confirmed reports by Litchfield-based blogger Andy Thibault in "The Cool Justice Report" that developers David and M. Diane Fredrick once expressed interest in buying her land adjacent to the Montessori School.
She said the couple put a deposit on the property a few years ago. But she said they subsequently gave up their right to buy the property.
"I haven't heard from them in a couple, three years," she said.
Sister Mary Laureann Alexandrowicz, the Felician Sisters' provincial minister in Enfield, confirmed last week that the order's lawyer is in discussions with Anderson's lawyer. But she declined to comment further, saying she expected to have more information in a week or two.
The negotiations between Anderson and the Felician Sisters aren't the only hole in the land-grab theory.
The third parcel that Thibault has suggested might be put together with the Montessori School property and Anderson's land for a large-scale development is a lot at the end of Yale Court that once belonged to Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC. The principals in Ridgewood Homes are Diane Fredrick and Jeanette Tallarita, the wife of Mayor Patrick L. Tallarita.
But in January 2006, months before Thibault published blogs on the issue last fall, the Planning and Zoning Commission had approved a subdivision of the 6.7-acre Ridgewood Homes property into just two residential lots, both with access from Yale Court.
A condition of the PZC approval was that the developers file a "conservation easement." That easement, recorded in November in the town clerk's office, prohibits virtually any construction on some 5.3 acres of the former Ridgewood Homes property.
The conservation area - much of which consists of wetlands and a flood-hazard area, according to a map on file at the town clerk's office - includes the entire section of the property that abuts Anderson's land.
The conservation area is divided almost equally between the two residential lots that have been carved out of the property.
Thibault repeated the claim that the Yale Court property might be part of a consolidated development with Anderson's land and the Montessori School property as recently as a May 8 post on his blog. That was after Ridgewood Homes had sold both its lots on Yale Court to homeowners - and followed by almost six months the recording of the conservation easement that made a consolidated development impossible.
Still, it is understandable that Montessori School parents, alumni, and other backers should have been concerned in recent years about the school's future.
The town's Historic District Commission has twice rejected plans by the Montessori School to build a new driveway and a number of new parking spaces.
Meanwhile, Zoning Enforcement Officer Wayne T. Bickley, acting in response to a telephone call from PZC Chairman Anthony DiPace, investigated the Montessori School's existing gravel parking area and ordered the school to stop using it.
Bickley's order, together with the Historic District Commission's refusal to allow construction of the new parking area, raised the possibility that it might become impossible to operate the Montessori School on its current site.
"Challenging the right for this parking area challenges the legal existence of the school," Hartford lawyer Kenneth R. Slater Jr., who represents the school, said at a ZBA hearing on Bickley's order in January 2005.
The ZBA overturned the zoning enforcement officer's order, ruling on the basis of testimony from at least 13 witnesses that the parking area had existed before 1966, when the town adopted a zoning regulation requiring the school to get a permit from the PZC for parking.
The PZC appealed the ZBA's action to Hartford Superior Court. But Judge Trial Referee Richard M. Rittenband upheld the ZBA's decision.
Case ended by deal?
The PZC let the case end at that point. It could have asked the state Appellate Court to hear a further appeal, but decided not to do so.
The school subsequently planted a row of bushes along the edge of the gravel parking lot to prevent cars from driving out across the sidewalk.
DiPace has said the bushes were planted as a result of an agreement between the school and the PZC to end the court appeals. He said zoning officials had acted against the school only because of concerns about the safety of the parking lot.
But Sister Alexandrowicz has denied that the planting of the bushes had anything to do with the PZC's court appeals.
In any case, the school's court victory eliminates any threat to its existence posed by parking problems.
Nevertheless, the school is continuing to appeal the Historic District Commission's rejection of its application to build a new driveway and parking areas. Judge Trial Referee Samuel Freed has upheld the commission's action in Hartford Superior Court. But the school is appealing that ruling to the state Appellate Court.