Café Ruche sues town and building landlord

Café Ruche, LLC, a restaurant and yoga studio, has filed a lawsuit against the town of Wilton, Wilton Center Development Limited Partnership, and Paragon Realty Group. The suit was filed in Superior Court at Bridgeport on May 23.
Café Ruche, owned by Annie Horn and Barbara Chopin of Weston, opened at 101 Old Ridgefield Road in Wilton Center Dec. 22, 2014 but closed less than a year later. It had been a popular eatery and gathering place until a pervasive petroleum odor caused customers to stay away.

That is the reason for the lawsuit — odors believed to be coming from an illegally abandoned oil tank under the building.

The town is being sued because it owns the building where Café Ruche leased space at 101 Old Ridgefield Road.

According to the complaint, the town leased the property in 1983 to the Faraca Company, which assigned its rights to Wilton Center Development Limited Partnership (WCD). The original term of the lease was from Jan. 1, 1984 to Jan. 31, 2015, with three ten-year options to extend, according to the complaint. Paragon Realty Group of Westport has held the lease since April 2015.

The complaint cites at least one underground heating oil storage tank on the property and says in March 1991, WCD retained Atlantic Environmental Companies to perform an environmental assessment. A month later a “limited subsurface” investigation was performed by Langan Environmental Services.

Soil borings were performed, but no samples were collected from the interior of the tenant space nor was the groundwater evaluated, according to the complaint.

Still, significant total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) contamination was found, with levels as high as 1,398 parts per million, which the complaint says indicates a release of petroleum. But Langan was unable to find the source by digging with shovels and suggested the TPH reading was due to asphalt leaching TPH into the soil. Neither WCD nor the town investigated further.

Some 23 years later, in mid-2014, Café Ruche entered into a five-year lease with WCD and the town, with an option for five more.

Café owner Chopin notified WCD of petroleum odors on April 23, 2015 and says customers began complaining of nausea and headaches.

The landlord sent someone to investigate in May, but no action was taken, and a week later Chopin notified Paragon the café was losing business.

“After another delay, until May 29, 2015, WCD and/or Paragon apparently again retained Langan, who cut two holes in the southwestern wall … where, in addition to an odor, moisture and an oily residue were observable on the surface of the concrete slab within the wall cavity.”

Subsequent installation of a small ventilation system failed to alleviate the odors and in July, Langan made additional openings on the south wall, removed oil-contaminated insulation, and discovered three severed pipes.

The company returned again in August, this time with ground-penetrating radar, which revealed a tank in the location suspected in 1991, which was then abandoned.

The café’s complaint says neither the town, WCD, Paragon nor Langan filed a report with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, as required by law. Nor did they report the original release of TPH in 1991.

A second release of petroleum odors was discovered last November, which also was not reported to DEEP, according to the complaint. The town health department ordered the café closed on Nov. 23, 2015. According to the complaint, the soil and groundwater on the property remain polluted.

As a result, against all defendants, the complaint cites breach of contract regarding the lease, nuisance in that the defendants’ inaction could create danger and inflict injury, negligence, and violation of several state statutes.

Café Ruche seeks money and punitive damages.