Did Big Anthony
Get His Money's Worth?
The commission improperly relied
on comments from two nearby landowners,
Anthony Troiano and Patrick Crowley,
whose statements lacked factual support
or were irrelevant, the court found.
They [commission members] did not appear
to acknowledge that the overall area of
the property dedicated to parking of vehicles
decreased from 19,325 to 16,546 square feet
with the elimination of gravel that had covered
the formerly grassy area.
Moreover, although the parking of the
vehicles would be closer to the adjacent
buildings, they nevertheless would be farther
from the vantage point of the historic
streetscape of Enfield Street.
Finally, although Tatoian and the other
commissioners objected to the removal
of some natural vegetation, they did not
acknowledge the addition of multiple new
trees and other landscaping to the property
that would shield the cars from public view.
The defendant [commission] also did not find
that any of the vegetation that would be
removed [near Big Anthony’s cabana] has any
historic value, or that the addition of new
trees and plantings would be inconsistent
with the historic streetscape.
High court rules in favor of nuns:
Parking lot win is ' a nice Christmas present'
By Ben Rubin Journal Inquirer
The state Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of the Felician Sisters' Enfield Montessori School, saying that a town commission abused its powers in blocking the school's plan to improve its parking lot in an historic district.
"I'm just pleased that justice has been served," Sister Francine Sousa, administrator of the school, said Monday. "It's been a long ordeal for us and I'm just glad the light has been seen. It's a nice Christmas present."
The Felician Sisters had fought bitterly with the town and the Enfield Historic District Commission for years over its proposed improvements to the parking lot at the school, located at 1370 Enfield St.
In 2004 the commission rejected plans to upgrade the driveway at the private nonprofit elementary school, stating that the added blacktop would diminish the historic character of the area.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that while the Historic District Commission had jurisdiction over the parking lot, it lacked substantial evidence in its rejection of the plan and abused its discretion.
The Supreme Court's ruling reverses a lower court's decision from a year ago that found in favor of the Historic District Commission.
Traffic woes are so miserable at the school, Sousa said, that parents' cars pile up into Enfield Street, clogging the road and forcing her to usher cars in and out of the campus' packed driveway.
She added that the need for more parking space was essential for the safety of parents and children.
The Historic District Commission's resistance to the plan also raised the possibility the school would be left without adequate parking, potentially forcing it to move or close down.
The parking plan calls for a larger turnaround within the school property, increasing capacity for more cars and alleviating the backup onto Enfield Street. For a long time, school officials temporarily tried to fix the problem by laying gravel over a grassy area at the school to increase room for cars.
With the new ruling, the school plans to clear off the gravel lot, which was twice cited as violating zoning codes, and landscape the area with trees and grass.
Those on the other side of the decision were decidedly quieter.
Town Manager Matthew Coppler said Monday that he looked at the ruling as a "mixed bag," since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Historic District Commission's authority, but not its specific action.
Anthony and Lillian Troiano, the school's next door neighbors, sided with the town and were intervening defendants in the case. Lillian had no comment on the decision Monday.
The heated legal entanglement focuses on whether historic district commissions have authority over school parking issues. State law says historic district commissions have jurisdiction over "industrial, commercial, business, home industry or occupational parking."
The Supreme Court decided that schools fit under "occupational" establishments, broadening those commissions' authority.
Even so, the court ruled against the Enfield commission, noting there was not substantial evidence in denying the school's plan.
For instance, the court found the commission wrongly believed the school would increase its parking space when it would actually decrease, thanks to landscaping over the gravel area of the lot.
The court also found that although the parking spaces would be closer to adjacent buildings, the vehicles would be less visible from historic Enfield Street -- balancing out those factors.
The commission improperly relied on comments from two nearby landowners, Anthony Troiano and Patrick Crowley, whose statements lacked factual support or were irrelevant, the court found.
"Put simply, the neighbors' statements do nothing to explain how the plaintiffs' parking plan is any more deleterious to the historic character of Enfield Street than is the existing parking situation," and fail to mention that the proposed plan actually reduces visibility of cars, the ruling states.
The school, which has an enrollment of about 120 pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade students and is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Hartford, was created in 1965 and hasn't added new permanent parking since then, Sousa said.
After being rejected by the Historic District Commission for a much larger plan, school administrators came back with a trimmed project but were rejected again.
School officials then appealed the commission's decision to Hartford Superior Court. But Judge Referee Samuel Freed upheld the commission's decision last year.
School officials then filed an appeal with the state Appellate Court, but the state Supreme Court took the case instead.
The school's initial plans called for an 8,500-square-foot expansion to one of the school's two buildings to create a multipurpose room, and also asked for driveway and parking capacity for 37 cars. The second plan asked for capacity for 17 cars and shelved the expansion idea.
Sousa said her school would take one step at a time in regard to ever reopening plans for a building expansion.
Law Tribune Columns From 2004
Revenge Of The Nerds & Losers
By ANDY THIBAULT, Columnist
Law Tribune Newspapers
September 6, 2004
The Red Guards of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution had nothing on the nerds and losers who make up many so-called Historic District Commissions in Connecticut.
Under the murky cover of ambiance, aesthetics and historical integrity - subjects about which they demonstrate little understanding - these minions of the in-crowd routinely trample on the civil and property rights of ordinary citizens. Woe to the uninitiated who come before such agencies just trying to improve their property. If they don't belong to the right club, drink at the same parties or have political juice, they are screwed. It doesn't matter what precedents might have been set or what is fair and just. These "Hysterical District Commissions," as they are commonly known, just make it all up as they go along. In some cases, they or their colleagues at town hall will even lie about their intended victims.
In the name of justice and historical accuracy, I say we lock the heads and arms of these evildoers in the stocks at town greens every Friday in Connecticut. Mere public ridicule might not be enough, however. In some cases, burning at the stake is clearly justified.
I could pick virtually any town, but let's start with Enfield. Just as in any small town, there are movers and shakers -- those whose voices in public and in private carry more weight than they should in a democracy. When they tell politicians and town officials to jump, they jump.
Not everyone jumps, though. In Enfield, it was a few nuns who said, "We are holding our ground. We are going to protect our children."
These nuns are the Felician Sisters who established a school in town in 1944. That was more than 25 years before the Enfield Public Schools introduced kindergarten. At one point, the Sisters served 312 kindergarteners for the town.
Town leaders and the Hystericals demonstrated their appreciation in recent years by claiming the Sisters had operated the school illegally. It has been a Montessori School since 1965. Luckily for the Sisters, archives document state certification to 1944.
An engineering study conducted this year shows that children are at risk because of limited parking that causes backups on busy Route 5. The Sisters want to plant grass over a parking lot near the front of the property and move parking to the back. The Hystericals have denied parking proposals three times, saying, among other things, that the ambiance would suffer. They say the ambiance would suffer because the parking would be moved virtually out of sight and the children would be safer. It doesn't matter that another nearby school, a nursing home and a physical therapist all have parking in front.
To understand this illogic, one must understand politics.
The next door neighbor, Big Anthony Troiano, owns a lot of businesses and property in town. At one point, Big Anthony and his partners owed the town about $40,000 in property taxes, but the town still paid them about $180,000 over two years to repair cop cars and other vehicles.
Big Anthony told the Hystericals "historic vegetation" would be destroyed if the nuns put a parking lot behind the school. They listened and no one howled in laughter. This historic vegetation sprang from grass seed planted a few months ago. It must be different from the historic vegetation that Big Anthony surgically removed a few yards away for his cabana and pool.
Party Down With Sister Anastasia
By ANDY THIBAULT, Columnist
Law Tribune Newspapers
September 13, 2004
The hottest hunk of woman I've encountered lately -- outside of family, of course -- is Sister Mary Anastasia.
I felt the light of Sister Mary Anastasia shine on me during a recent visit to the Montessori School she runs in Enfield. She has been teaching there for 36 years, helping toddlers and somewhat older youngsters learn words by touching and feeling and seeing.
Her order, the Felician Sisters, has been running schools at the site since 1944. It's on Enfield Street, a major road with big houses and big lawns and lots of traffic.
These days, Sister Mary Anastasia jets around in a walker. "I could never sit in an office all day," she tells me. "Life begins at 60 … " Her body is frail and worn, but this person is one of the strongest, brightest and warmest people I have ever met. She is a humble jester. She is tough and beautiful. She is a quiet and relentless warrior.
Sister Mary Anastasia convinces me that if God loves the meek, he most certainly loves those with backbone. For Sister Mary Anastasia is taking on a rotten town government filled with gutless worms who are living off taxpayers and failing to stand up for what is right and good.
I talked to a cop about this school. He knows a child who attends. He knows that the parents must drop off their child very early to avoid congestion and safety hazards. He was very friendly and outgoing during this portion of the conversation.
Then, I asked him about the political juice of a few people who don't want the nuns to relocate their parking lot from the front to the back of the school. The sisters would replace the gravel in front with grass, and expand parking in the back. The cop's tone changed. "I don't know anything about that," he said. The conversation was over.
"We have a solution, but they [the Historic District Commission] won't let us do it," Sister Mary Anastasia told me. "That's what I don't understand. This is our first experience with politics. This whole fiasco doesn't make any sense."
Three times the Historic District Commission rejected the parking plan.
"We have pre-schoolers," Sister Mary Anastasia said. "With these big vans, you can't see those little kids. We're lucky we haven't had a serious accident."
I asked Richard Tatoian, the Historic District chairman, about an engineering report showing children are at risk because of traffic back-ups.
"That was their opinion," Tatoian said. "Safety issues are not paramount." I asked Tatoian, as I had asked the cop, about the political juice of the next door neighbor -- large landholder and business leader Anthony Troiano -- who has vigorously opposed the plan.
"That had no effect that he is a property owner and a businessman," Tatoian said.
Yeah, that's a good one. Or, if I may say so politely, I'm skeptical.
In Enfield, Big Anthony Troiano gets what Big Anthony Troiano wants. If he wants a zone change for a business, he gets it. If he wants hundreds of thousands of dollars of town business while he and his partners are tax delinquents, he gets it. If one of his buildings gets shut down for cocaine trafficking, he gets a deal with prosecutors to find a new tenant. And if Big Anthony wants the Historic District Commission to stomp on a parking plan the nuns have for kids, that's what happens. I went to see Big Anthony at his house, left a card and then called one of his businesses. I'm still waiting to hear back.
Meanwhile, there's a slight chance a judge will see what is going on here and do the right thing. The Felician Sisters have filed an appeal with the Superior Court. Let's see how much taxpayers want to pay to subsidize Big Anthony and his minions in the war against the nuns and their students.