The city of Norwalk has settled a lawsuit that will permanently prevent a halfway house from being operated at 17 Quintard Ave.
The suit, filed by Firetree Ltd. – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania that is “designed to provide quality transitional services to individuals associated with the criminal justice system” – challenged a 2016 decision by the Norwalk Zoning Board of Appeals.
That decision maintained that, although the property had previously been operated by Bridgeport-based Pivot Ministries as a halfway house for the rehabilitation of those addicted to drugs, Firetree’s efforts at making it a transitional space for former prisoners looking to re-enter society was “an un-allowed change from the pre-existing nonconforming use.”
Firetree said it had researched the property before acquiring it, and that it had stated its intentions to Mayor Harry Rilling and other city officials before buying it. Afterward, it said, it invested more than $600,000 to install railings, fire alarms, a sprinkler system and a wheelchair lift.
Firetree’s re-entry centers usually allow prisoners who are in the last six to 12 months of their sentence to serve that time instead at a facility such as the one proposed for Quintard Avenue as they are prepared for re-entering society.
The settlement requires the city and its insurance carrier, CIRMA, to pay Firetree approximately $625,000. Of that amount, Norwalk paid approximately $275,000, “which is significantly less than what the city would have spent going to trial,” according to city officials. CIRMA paid approximately $350,000.
“As a result of the settlement,” Norwalk officials said, “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.’”