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Friday, April 27 News

Zoning violation fine waived for Post Road East property ... for now

The current owner of a strip mall at 1529 Post Road East made his case this week as to why he should not be responsible for past zoning violations by the owner of the Boat Locker, which leased space there for many years.

In question was a $600 fine for a citation issued by the Planning and Zoning Department for violations that included the unapproved use of outdoor storage space on a back parking lot, as well as the unapproved use of an old Quonset hut, also on the back lot, that was also used as storage space by the Boat Locker.

Those violations were attributed to Scott Hardy, Boat Locker owner. Hardy leased space at the Post Road East strip mall, now owned by developer John Nelson. Despite recently relocating his business to Bridgeport, Hardy is still under lease for the Westport location, Nelson said.

Hardy declined comment on the matter Tuesday.

"This goes back to 1987," said Sue Reynolds, zoning official, during a hearing in Town Hall. During that time there have been a number of violations at that location including that "there was no site plan approval for boat storage there," she said.

Reynolds explained that Nelson, who bought the strip mall last year, is being fined because "the only entity we can enforce against is the property owner."

Hearing officer Michael Stashower said there have been "years of violations" at the property.

Fallon said that although his client only took over the property in April of last year and asked for a 90-day continuance of the hearing.

"We, in fact, inherited the tenant," John Fallon, the lawyer representing Nelson said about Hardy. "We are making great strides trying to get the tenant out, but he has a lease."

He said the tenant is "85 percent gone" and they are "legally continuing to press him" to be gone for good.

Fallon said Nelson is a "reputable property owner who is working to resolve this."

"He is making a good faith effort," said Fallon, once again asking if the hearing could be continued for a reasonable period of time. "We are trying to work on legal issues including the lease."

Larry Bradley, the town's planning and zoning administrator, said it's not in Stashower's authority to grant a continuance. "He can assess a fine, reduce it or waive it," he added.

"We would hate to see a fine here because every day the owner has been trying to bring the property into compliance' said Fallon. "A fine means you've done something wrong."

But Reynolds said, "When you inherit a property the problems are your problems."

"The tenant had rights on the lease we inherited. We had to work with that," said Nelson. "We will get him out in 90 days."

The fine was waived, but Bradley said that if the problems aren't resolved in 90 days, a new citation will be issued.