Park Case Question: Might Trees Remain Standing?

by Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent, March 10, 2022

Maybe the developer will build around the trees?

A city-hired attorney offered that defense in state court during the latest hearing about whether or not New Haven violated a state environmental law by agreeing to sell a Dwight public greenspace.

That’s the latest in the ongoing case Friends of Kensington Playground v. City of New Haven.

Parks group attorney Keith Ainsworth and city-hired attorney Nancy Valentino duked it out, legally speaking, before state Superior Court Judge James Abrams during a live-streamed virtual hearing on the city’s motion to strike a key part of the underlying lawsuit.

Abrams did not issue a ruling during Wednesday’s hearing itself; he is expected to submit a written order on the matter soon.

The state court case dates back to November 2020, when a group of Dwight open-space advocates filed a lawsuit looking to stop the city from selling a 0.67-acre park on Kensington Street for $1 to The Community Builders (TCB).
The Boston-based developer plans to build 15 new affordable apartments atop the public greenspace as part of TCB’s $30 million Phase 2 redevelopment of the adjacent Kensington Square apartment complex. The city in turn has agreed to set aside new public parkland in Newhallville, while TCB must invest $80,000 in improvements at the nearby city-owned Day Street Park.

In June 2021, a state judge threw out half of the park advocates lawsuit after agreeing with the city that Dwight resident Patricia Wallace and the park friends group do not have legal standing to sue the city under a state law that limits how municipalities may “take” open space.

That left only one legal allegation remaining in the parks group’s bid to stop the city from handing over the park to the housing builder.

That allegation — that the city’s park-transfer approval violates the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), or Connecticut General Statutes § 22a-16 — was at the center of Wednesday’s hearing.

Valentino kicked off the hearing by making the case for the city’s motion to strike from October 2021.

CEPA allows someone to sue the state or a municipality “for the protection of the public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of the state from unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction,” she said, quoting the law itself.

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