The planning and zoning commission and zoning enforcement officer say the school illegally constructed a gravel parking lot in 1992. The nuns who run the school say they have used that area as a parking lot for nearly 50 years - before the special permit regulations were established - and graveling it was a matter of maintenance, which they say does not require a permit.
The zoning board of appeals sided with the Felician Sisters of the Order of St. Francis of Connecticut, who have run a school on the property in various forms since 1944. (Rathi)
The problem is that the property is located in the town’s historic district, which requires special permits and a lengthy process for construction of almost any type. The parking lot is considered by the school to be absolutely essential, since the school is located on busy Route 5 (Enfield St.). The sisters who run the school have proposed solutions to the problem, only to have the historic district commission shoot them down.
Weirdly, the zoning board of appeals is actually being sued by the planning and zoning commission over the matter. Apparently, according to a source close to the PZC, not all of the commissioners were present when the decision to sue was made, but the decision went forward regardless. The town council, according to the Courant article, is officially staying out of it for now.
Andy Thibault, who publishes The Cool Justice Report, has covered this story more extensively than anyone, and has been very critical of the actions of the town. Here are links to just a few of the stories he’s written on the subject:
Courant Covers Town's Demented & Costly Crusade Against Enfield Montessori School
Enfield’s ‘Deep Connole:’ Follow The Subdivisions
Enfield Legal Dept. Needs Tuneup
MONTESSORI PARENT SPEAKS
Sister Francine Mary's Letter To Gov. Rell
Enfield Mayor Full Of ...
Nuns Aren't Taking It Any More...
Thibault brings to light a couple of crucial points--namely, that the crisis is highlighting splits within the town Democratic Party, which controls the town council and has been making some questionable decisions lately. Thibault says:
There are seven Democrats and four Republicans on the Enfield Town Council currently controlled by Tallarita. Deep Connole reports, however, that there is a growing split among rank and file Democrats and Tallarita loyalists. The fire department, a significant political force, is not allied with Tallarita.
He also points out speculation that a big political player in town, Anthony Troiano, may be pushing some of this:
Troiano once told town officials "historic vegetation" would be destroyed if the nuns moved the parking area behind the school. That area is not so far from where similarly "historic vegetation" - some of us call it grass - was removed to make way for Troiano's pool and cabana.
Action against the Montessori School began only after it sought to add an activity room and move the parking area. Brendan Belgey, an accountant with a practice in town, attended Enfield Montessori in 1965.
"My mother parked in the lot where I drop off my child," Begley said. Begley said the sisters, like any other property owners, should be able to do whatever is legally proper on their 11 acres of land without political interference. The activity room is needed, he said, so youngsters can stretch their legs outside the classroom once in a while.
"I believe Mr. Troiano doesn't want this [improvements to the school] to happen for whatever reason," Begley said. "I think he was a catalyst and he used his influence."
At this point, the legal fight over the school is costing the town in legal fees, PR and goodwill. It will be a terrible shame if the school loses the fight and closes its doors--and Enfield will only have itself to blame should that happen.
Ratni, Rachana. "Boards Grapple In Court." Hartford Courant 13 September, 2006.
Thibault, Andy. The Cool Justice Report. See above for individual articles.