SOUTHINGTON — Town officials and a local developer may be close to a settlement in a lawsuit over a denied housing project on Laning Street.
Frank Fragola, a local business owner and developer, filed a lawsuit against the Planning and Zoning Commission after his 30-unit housing plan that included affordable units was denied last summer.
A Superior Court judge granted an extension for the town to file a reply brief, pushing off a trial in the case. Evan Seeman, an attorney for the town, said the extension gives more time to talk about a settlement.
“The parties have continued to engage in settlement discussions and have made progress in reaching a possible resolution,” Seeman wrote in his request to Hartford Superior Court judge Matthew Budzic.
Christopher Smith and Bryan Meccariello, attorneys representing Fragola, agreed to the extension, which was granted on May 10. They didn’t comment on a possible settlement Tuesday.Preparing to settle?
Last week, the Planning and Zoning Commission met about the case in a closed-door executive session, but took no action during the public meeting.
Seeman said the extension was needed to finalize a possible settlement.
“Thirty days is needed to allow defendant (Southington Planning and Zoning) Commission to conduct a public meeting to consider a possible settlement and then for the court to conduct a hearing,” he wrote.
Bob Hammersley, commission chairman, said any settlement would require a commission vote to approve. He declined to comment further.Safety concerns
Fragola's lawsuit claims the commission didn't have proper cause for voting down his housing proposal.
The development would have included an affordable housing component. Since Southington doesn't meet the state's goal for affordable housing, the Planning and Zoning Commission can only deny such proposals if they feel there's a danger to public health or safety.
In July, the PZC denied Fragola's request in a 5 to 2 vote. Commission members that opposed the plan pointed to regulations that called for two full access points for developments of its size. In a prepared statement, they called the access plan "inadequate and unsafe" for fire department and emergency access. Commissioners were also concerned about the addition of 30 new septic systems, increasing housing density in the neighborhood and traffic.
Fragola’s attorneys argued to the contrary, writing that the commission’s decision “fails to protect any substantial public interest in the health, safety or other matters that the Commission may legally consider which clearly outweighs the need for affordable housing.”
Fragola has been trying to build at his 295 Laning Street property for several years but has faced town opposition.Downtown lawsuit, settlement
The town came to a settled agreement early last year with another developer following an affordable housing lawsuit.
The planning commission approved Carl Verderame’s affordable housing development downtown but reduced the number of proposed apartments from 30 to 22. Nine of the units are affordable as defined by state statute, making the project more difficult for the town to deny.
Hunter Build, Verderame's company, proposed apartments on just under two acres in the middle of a residential block bordered by Liberty Street, Eden Avenue, Columbus Avenue and Bristol Street.
Commission leaders had concerns about increased housing density on the residential block, increased traffic and emergency vehicle access, which prompted the reduction of units.
The settlement allowed Verderame 28 units. He also agreed to build more parking spaces and make modifications to the site plan to better allow for emergency vehicle access.
Reporter Jesse Buchanan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.