Montessori School sues Wilton Planning and Zoning

The Montessori School on Whipple Road in Wilton has entered into a stipulated judgment with the Planning and Zoning Commssion involving the additons of grades 7 and 8.

The Montessori School on Whipple Road in Wilton has entered into a stipulated judgment with the Planning and Zoning Commssion involving the additons of grades 7 and 8.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The Grumman Hill Montessori Association has filed an appeal in Superior Court against Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The association, which runs the Montessori School at 34 Whipple Road, wants the commission to lift restrictions on the size of its school’s student body, caps on parking spots, and new requirements for how it handles parking at special events.

The school filed its appeal on Dec. 31, 2019, in Stamford Superior Court. Attorney Joseph Williams, of the Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin, is representing it on this matter. For its part, the attorney representing the Planning and Zoning Commission — Ira Bloom of Bercham Moses — appeared in court on Jan. 6 to acknowledge the appeal.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a long-running series of disputes between the commission and the school, and stems from a conditional approval P&Z gave to the school in November 2019 to add grades seven and eight.

The commission ultimately OK’d the addition of the two grades at the current limit of the school’s enrollment of 230. It also placed a limit of 40 for seventh and eighth grades. Moreover, P&Z prohibited parking on lawns and landscaped areas at the school, which the school says happens only during infrequent special events.

In its appeal the school seeks to overturn these conditions, which it called “unreasonable, arbitrary, illegal and an abuse of its discretion,” as well as not based on enrollment or traffic evidence. What’s more, these new conditions hurt the school because they limit enrollment and impose new costs — such as the hiring of buses to shuttle special-event guests to and from public parking facilities.

At the public hearing in November, the school’s enrollment in 2018-2019 was said to be 142.

School opened in 1988

The Grumman Hill Montessori School first opened on Whipple Road in 1988. The site, which was purchased by the Grumman Hill Montessori Association, housed a Wilton public school between 1954 and its closing in 1974.

In approving the association’s initial application, the commission excluded the school from enrolling seventh and eighth graders. Yet, it did not place a cap on enrollment.

Such a cap first came about in mid-2000 as a condition of approval for expanding several classrooms. The commission imposed a cap of 216, a number it raised several months later to 230. The earlier public school had enrolled approximately 300 students each year.

The school complied with the 230 enrollment cap, but in 2009 filed a special permit application that aimed to increase enrollment to 270. It also sought to increase parking at its grounds by 24 spaces. The commission denied both requests.

However, several years later the Connecticut Superior Court weighed in on those matters. Its September 2012 decision ordered the commission to approve it. In doing so it allowed the commission to impose “reasonable conditions.”

The commission OK’d the enrollment and parking increases in July, 2013. However it imposed 16 stipulations under that “reasonable conditions” guideline.

In particular, the commission required the school to build a structure that would limit access to portions of the school’s new parking lot. In addition, no one could park there between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The school went back to Superior Court, arguing that “the parking-related condition of the July of 2013 conditional approval was beyond the scope of the September 2012 decision [by the Superior Court].” In its filing, the school pointed out that the commission had never imposed limitations on parking and access to the school.

In a September 2014 decision, the Superior Court found in favor of the school and the commission reissued its permit approval without the parking-related conditions.

The next five years were without dispute until last fall’s application for the addition of seventh and eighth grades.

In addition to seeking to overturn the conditions, the appeal also seeks the court to award costs as provided by general statutes 8-8(1) and to “grant such other and further relief as may be just and proper.”

The commission will discuss the suit in executive session at its meeting on Jan. 27.