Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Y Downtown Faces P&Z in Court

By James Lomuscio

The integrity of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) came under attack in Stamford Superior Court today by a former commissioner.WestportNow.com Image
Helen Martin Block: “They didn’t want to probe the issues.” WN file photo

Judge A. William Mottolese heard former commissioner Helen Martin Block charge that the majority of the P&Z was biased toward the applicant in its 5 to 2 vote in 2008 approving the construction of a new Westport Weston family Y at Camp Mahackeno.

The P&Z and the Y are codefendants in a suit initiated by Y Downtown, a group that opposes the move and charges that the commission did not perform due diligence regarding town regulations when making the approval.

The predisposition claims were made by Martin Block who served on the commission from November 2003 to October 2008 when she resigned. 

She told William Kupinse, attorney for Y Downtown, that her claims were based on the P&Z’s lack of probing and commission chairman Ronald Corwin asking that she not pursue certain issues.

Under cross examination by Lawrence Weisman, attorney for the Y, and Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom, Block admitted that she never heard any P&Z members expressing support for the Y move, either verbally or in correspondence.

“It was by their actions,” Block said. “I felt they didn’t want to probe the issues.  …I really felt that if the commission did not decide prior to the application, they would have approached the Y in a different way.”

Weisman appeared to try to turn the tables on Block’s bias claim. First he asked how far she lived from the Mahackeno site.

“About two miles,” she responded.

Then he asked if her husband was involved with Y Downtown and if he gave them financial support.

“I believe he did,” she said.

She also responded yes to Weisman’s question of whether her son took part in a Y Downtown demonstration protesting the Mahackeno site.

Bloom pointed out that her letter of resignation, to the P&Z which had been entered into the record, also made no mention of bias.

He then challenged Block’s logic after she said bias was evidenced by the fact that P&Z member Ellie Lowenstein, who voted in favor of the move to Mahackeno, had told her prior to the application’s submission that she would prefer to see the Y remain downtown.

“Isn’t is possible that Mrs. Lowenstein, after sitting through 26 meetings and reading more than a thousand of pages of testimony, thought this application had merit?” Bloom asked.

Block said she believed Lowenstein had been pressured by a biased board, something that Lowenstein refuted when she took the stand.

Kenneth DeSanctis, a former alternate commissioner who voted with Block against the approval, also denied that there was ever any indication of bias on the part of the commissioners.

That fact was restated by Corwin on the stand.

“You did not want her to pursue questions in depth?” asked Kupinse.

“There was a tendency on her part to make long statements,” said Corwin, adding that Block took the opportunity to share her opinion on the matter rather than ask questions.

Corwin continued that his job as chairman was to ensure that the meetings moved forward, noting that more than 100 people had the opportunity to speak and ask questions.

“What I was doing was consistent with what a chairman would do, that time is not an infinite resource, and that we have to move things along,” said Corwin

The case is scheduled to continue Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Bloom said that Mottolese has up to four months to render a decision.

2 thoughts on “Y Downtown Faces P&Z in Court

  1. I cannot believe this is still going on!  If you don’t like where the YMCA will be, then don’t use it!  The case that was presented was extremely thorough on both sides and there was a decision made.  What a ‘shocker’ that Mrs. Martin-Blocks husband was a contributor to the Y-downtown posse.  That certainly explains her surprisingly unprofessional behavior during the P & Z’s review of the plans.

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