Authority, Developer Seeking Agreement On Nelton Court
January 6, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Settlement talks are underway in the legal dispute between the Hartford Housing Authority and the Meriden developer who says the authority reneged on a grand deal to remake much of the city's public housing.
The talks - initiated under the leadership of the authority's now-ousted board of commissioners - could resolve the dispute over a sweeping and controversial 2002 agreement between the authority and developer Salvatore Carabetta.
That so-called mystery memorandum surfaced last fall amid allegations of corruption and bid-rigging at the authority. When the broad scope of the agreement became clear, the authority denied its legitimacy, the former authority director said he never signed the document although his signature appears to be on it , and Carabetta filed suit to enforce it.
On Friday, though, officials confirmed that both the authority and Carabetta's company, SOC Group, were considering settlement talks that could include the redevelopment of Nelton Court - one piece of the disputed deal.
"It's our understanding that the authority is amenable to discussing having SOC Group proceed with the Nelton Court project and that all the parties are prepared to discuss making certain changes to the memorandum of understanding to clarify the responsibilities of all the parties," said Dominic Aprile, attorney for Carabetta and his company, SOC Group, Inc.
But authority board Chairman Mark Ojakian cautioned that he and the other recently installed board members know little of the talks that were initiated by their predecessors.
"This is a brand-new board, and we haven't been involved in all of the previous negotiations," Ojakian said.
"No decision has been made by the board," Ojakian said. "This is to see if there is any sort of reasonable opportunity to settle this case."
The authority spent the latter half of 2006 beset by allegations of corruption, mismanagement, lawsuits and federal investigations. Events culminated in November 2006 when Mayor Eddie A. Perez overhauled the board and called for a clean slate.
The problems at the authority surfaced in August 2006, when the board dismissed then Executive Director Lancelot Gordon Jr. for failing to follow agency policies in nearly $11,000 worth of financial transactions. Gordon filed a federal lawsuit after his termination, denying the charges and claiming that he was fired because he was trying to resist deep-rooted corruption. Local, state and federal officials are still investigating.
In November, Perez appointed four new board members after he removed four others - three of whom he said inadequately addressed the concerns of federal audits, among other things.
But the lawsuit at issue reaches much further back in time to a 2002 agreement that appeared to give SOC the rights to develop the Nelton Court housing project and set out a $7 million plan to build the second phase of a new project at Stowe Village.
It also spelled out a more far-reaching vision for improving public housing, "deconcentrating poverty," relocating residents, and "transforming the market of the neighborhood" on the north side of Hartford, including the planned $300 million redevelopment of Westbrook Village and Bowles Park.
When the deal surfaced last fall, former authority head John D. Wardlaw said the signature that appeared above his name was not his and that he never would have signed so wide-ranging a deal. Authority board members said they had no idea where the document came from - despite the fact that a Courant investigation showed the authority paid more than $80,000 to the developer as a result of the memorandum.
Carabetta filed suit in September seeking to have the deal enforced.
Ojakian said he expects a full briefing on the suit to take place at the board's next meeting.
"After that, I'll be happy to comment," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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