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News Dec 26, 2019 - 5:17:25 AM

City of Norwalk successfully settles Firetree lawsuit; agreement ensures prison re-entry center is prohibited on property

By City of Norwalk

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Norwalk, CT - The City of Norwalk and Firetree, LTD, announced that it recently reached a settlement agreement that upholds the actions of City employees and ensures that a prison re-entry center can never be operated at 17 Quintard Avenue in Norwalk, Conn. Judge Michael Shea approved the settlement at a hearing in Federal District Court on Monday, December 23, 2019.

Settlement proceeds to Firetree from the City and its insurance carrier, CIRMA, totaled approximately $625,000. Of this, the City paid approximately $275,000, which is significantly less than what the City would have spent going to trial. CIRMA paid approximately $350,000. As a result of the settlement payment by the City and CIRMA, the City ensured that the neighborhood around the subject property would be protected from a potential decision of the Court that could have resulted in Firetree having the legal right to operate a prison re-entry center in the neighborhood.

The case was settled at a point where the parties had concluded pre-trial evidence hearings, but there was still a significant amount of time and money needed to proceed with the case in order to argue various pending motions and state law zoning appeals, as well as to prepare and conduct a jury trial.

The settlement also upholds the actions of City officials and decisions of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which denied the use of a prison re-entry center at the subject property in 2016. Firetree, LTD filed an application for a property it owns at 17 Quintard Avenue in Norwalk to operate a residential re-entry center, which typically operates with prisoners who are in the last six to 12 months of their prison sentence being placed to serve out their remaining prison sentence while being re-acclimated to the freedoms outside of institutional incarceration. Firetree proposed to operate the prison re-entry center under a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In August 2016, the Norwalk Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO) rescinded a Zoning Permit that would have allowed Firetree to use the subject property for a prison re-entry center. Firetree appealed the ZEO’s decision to not issue the permit to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), and the ZBA upheld the decision of the ZEO. Firetree also separately filed an application to the ZBA for a special exception permit to operate the prison re-entry center, which the ZBA denied. Firetree commenced legal action in the Federal District Court to appeal the denials of the ZBA, in addition to other claims that Firetree brought against the City and various City officials.

As a result of the settlement, the City has ensured that a prison re-entry center can never be operated at the subject property. In addition to upholding the City’s zoning decisions, Firetree also provided the City with a deed restriction which confirms that regardless of the City’s regulations, the title to the subject property shall be forever restricted from being “used as a correctional center, correctional facility, or for any other correctional purposes, whether operated by a state or federal department or agency, or by a third-party under a contract with a state or federal department or agency.”

The deed restriction broadly defines “correctional center,” “correctional facility” or “correctional purposes” to “mean any use which includes the housing, whether permanent or temporary, for incarcerated individuals under the control, oversight and/or jurisdiction of the state or federal government.”

The litigation was titled Firetree v. City of Norwalk, ET. AL., Docket No. 3:17-CV-01088.

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