WALLINGFORD — An attorney representing the town has requested that a housing discrimination lawsuit be transferred from the housing session court to the regular docket in Meriden Superior Court.
Melinda A. Powell, of Rose Kallor LLP in Hartford, filed a motion Sept. 11 stating that “the regular docket is more suitable to hear this matter since it is not a usual housing matter, like a landlord-tenant dispute.”
The state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities filed the lawsuit against the town on May 31 on behalf of Christian and Abigail Gilbert. It alleges a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals constituted housing discrimination.
The CHRO claims the ZBA violated federal housing and disability protective laws in June 2018 when it denied the Gilberts zoning variances needed to renovate a house at 4 Doris St., a single-story, 946-square-foot dwelling on a 0.22-acre lot, and make it handicapped accessible.
Christian Gilbert has multiple sclerosis-related mobility issues, according to court documents.
The ZBA denied the Gilberts’ application “because the request was unreasonable, and because there were other options available to them,” according to the motion.
Court documents state that Christian Gilbert claims that after the June 2018 meeting, ZBA acting Chairman Raymond Rys said, “I have some family members who share your medical Filing
condition and they don’t need this type of modification, so you won’t need the variance for what you are seeking.”
On June 29, 2018, the Gilberts filed a complaint with the CHRO alleging housing discrimination.
Since the variance denial, no one representing the town has “engaged in any interactive process with (the Gilberts) … to identify alternative means to provide reasonable accommodation (nor) suggested any alternative reasonable accommodation,” court documents said.
The Gilberts sold their Doris Street home in October 2018. It’s unclear whether they remain in Wallingford.
The CHRO began its investigation in October 2018. On Feb. 21, 2019, CHRO case investigator Diane Carter “found reasonable cause to believe a discriminatory housing practice had occurred,” court documents said.
On March 6, a letter stated that the town and ZBA “elected to proceed by civil action in Superior Court.”
The Gilberts’ attorney filed the lawsuit on June 4. The town filed for an extension of time to plead on July 23, which was granted Aug. 12 by Judge Nada K. Sizemore. The town has until Sept. 23 to file its plea.Town’s defense
The motion to transfer the case from the housing session court to the regular docket argues that there are “novel issues of law” that may need to be addressed.
“Our Appellate and Supreme Court have not yet spoken on the issue of the application and parameters of the fair housing laws and the intersection with the statutory zoning scheme and variances,” the motion said.
The motion included some defenses by the town, including that the ZBA “encouraged” the Gilberts to present a modified plan instead.
“By making modifications to their plans, the Plaintiffs (the Gilberts) would have provided a better opportunity for the Defendants (the town and ZBA) to work with them in approving their application,” the motion said.
The motion claimed that the Gilberts failed to show why they needed to expand the house so drastically and that the first floor could have been enlarged without a variance.
The motion also states that since the Gilberts moved and sold the property, “this matter is essentially moot."
There are no further court dates scheduled.