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Mystery Memo Case Dismissed

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

April 07, 2009

A Superior Court judge dismissed a case brought by a Meriden developer against the Hartford Housing Authority today, clearing the way for the authority to pick a new builder to redevelop the land at Nelton Court.

SOC Group Inc. had sued the housing authority in 2006 claiming that a 2002 memorandum of understanding signed by SOC and the authority gave the SOC the rights to develop Nelton Court.

But while the company, run by developer Salvatore Carabetta and the Hartford nonprofit Sheldon Oak Central, claimed the memorandum was binding, the authority didn't feel that way. Although it bears the apparent signature of John Wardlaw, the authority's late executive director, Wardlaw said that he had never seen the document and never would have signed it if he had.

Last week, Carabetta was in Superior Court in Hartford to ask a judge to halt the selection process for a new developer at Nelton Court while it resolves the issue of the so-called mystery memo. Meanwhile, the authority was planning to award the project to another developer -- yet to be named -- later this month.

But the memorandum took a back seat today to a more intriguing issue: whether or not SOC Group even exists.

Last week, everyone agreed it doesn't -- having never formally been incorporated. The housing authority argued that, as a result, SOC Group Inc. has no right to sue the authority; Carabetta's attorney argued that the issue was at best a technicality.

This morning, Superior Court Judge Nina Elgo agreed with the authority, dismissing the case, and arguing that "the issue is whether the entity before the court has the legal capacity to sue."

It doesn't, she said.

"The decision is the right decision," said Alan Green, the authority's executive director. He said the authority will now proceed with the selection of a developer at Nelton Court. That could come in two weeks, he said.

Then, the authority will work quickly to sign a deal with the developer by the early fall so as not to jeopardized roughly $18 million in federal money associated with the timely completion of the project, Green said.

Nelton Court is the last of its kind. With 120 apartments in 14 buildings in Hartford's North End, this 65-year-old complex remains the only federally funded family housing development left in the city that hasn't been made over.

In 2007, the authority decided to begin to move the project's residents, knock down its buildings and build new housing. Proposals are pending.

Dominic Aprile, Carabetta's attorney, said he may appeal or file a new suit.

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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