Letter: Light pole trial a waste of taxpayer money

To the Editors:

Wilton taxpayers reading this letter will be understandably outraged to learn that in excess of $39,000 of precious town resources was wasted to defend a lawsuit that had no chance of succeeding. Let me explain:

In April 2012, the Wilton Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted a variance that would allow the placement of 70-foot-tall light poles in a residential area of town where pole heights were strictly limited to 30 feet. The ZBA acted completely illegally and without authority. How so?

The board contrived, in a 4-1 vote, to find a “hardship” if it did not approve the variance request. It did so in violation not only of its own regulations, but also of its own instructions. To his credit, one board member, Mr. Joe Fiteni, stated clearly to his board associates they were finding a hardship where none existed.

There were two trials in State Superior Court challenging the board’s illegal action. In the first trial, lawyers representing the ZBA did not even attempt to justify the unfounded claim of “hardship.”

In a second trial the board tried to revive the “hardship” justification by claiming the 109-acre size of the lot would render it useless if 70-foot lights were not permitted. What?

Judge Charles T. Lee, in a decision issued on Feb. 11, dismissed this absurdity by observing: “Here, the ZBA makes no connection between the large size of the property and any unusual impact upon it by the thirty-foot height limitation.”

The judge observed further that under Connecticut law, “hardship” is available to support a variance solely in certain circumstances, such as when, for example, the contours and shape of the property create a problem by making it difficult to apply zoning regulations. That was not the case here.

The town then advanced an equally unsustainable argument: the 70-foot lights would lessen the degree by which the present 30-foot tall lights violate the zoning regulations, admitting that the town is violating the zoning regulations with the present lighting on the property. However, the town failed to produce evidence that the 30-foot lights are legally grandfathered. If installed illegally, then no variance could elevate them to a legal status.

Extraordinary effort was not required to produce the date of their installation, if indeed they were ever legally installed. Yet at the oral argument at the second trial, the attorney for the town stated she did not know when the lights were installed on the property.

By vacating the ZBA’s variance, Judge Lee was required by law to determine that the Wilton ZBA did not exercise honest judgment or acted arbitrarily, illegally or unreasonably. One would not expect the first selectman and Board of Selectmen to approve the expenditure of precious town funds to defend such patently illegal actions by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Or, for any other division of town government that might flagrantly violate its obligation to follow the law.

Anthony F. LoFrisco

Wilton, Feb. 16