Who wins when a homeowner's building plans conflict with the neighborhood's sense of self?
A recent case involving a local architect who wanted to build a house of his own design on his property in Rowayton, Connecticut demonstrates how real estate decisions cannot only be problematic, but can result in lawsuits or even arrests.
Two years ago, Bruce Beinfield bought property in a coastal section of Norwalk, Connecticut on which he planned to build a home for himself that, with its water views through floor-to-ceiling windows would provide what he termed "a ship-like experience." Far from expecting anyone to object to his architectural plans, he hoped his new house would become a beloved structure. Nonetheless, in spite of other projects in the area that had helped him achieve renown, his new project was met with tremendous opposition in the community.
Vocal residents complained that Beinfield's plans would produce an "imposing," "monstrous" structure in the land around Farm Creek, land they had been struggling to preserve, and would destroy the environment. Strangely, the community had been up in arms a few years before when Norwalk Land Trust owned 16 acres surrounding Farm Creek. At that time, the locals felt strongly that they didn't want a trust to own the property, worrying that vacant land would attract "vandals and undesirables."
Perhaps Beinfield's first mistake after purchasing the land was to send out an email with the subject line "...Farm Creek will be destroyed." Although most of his neighbors had opposed the existence of undeveloped property nearby, they definitely objected to a statement declaring environmental destruction. The mayor and other city officials were overwhelmed with emails protesting Beinfield's plan. Astonished by the intensity of the backlash, Beinfeld withdrew his application before it was assessed by the zoning commission. In spite of its withdrawal, the local community continued to be in turmoil with some citizens demanding that the land be preserved and others arguing for a smaller house to be built closer to the road. Placards displaying both sides of the controversy appeared in the region.
Finally succumbing to public pressure, Beinfield made arrangements to sell his property back to the land trust and have it designated "Beinfield Preserve." Unfortunately, even this decision didn't bring resolution since he and his immediate neighbors, the McHughs, were in dispute. He claimed that they were required to remove a fence, driveway and lawn area that were on his property. During an episode that Beinfield calls "the most humiliating experience in my life, by far,” he was arrested for taking a pickaxe to the neighbor's lawn.
Eventually, after continuing protests from neighbors that the preserve would bring strangers to the area, the land trust, fearing lawsuits, backed out of the deal and Beinfield was back where he started. He decided at this point that a compromise was long overdue and has now submitted new plans, this time for a house similar to the first one he envisioned but set as far back to the road as possible which will obscure fewer views.
This case demonstrates how complicated seemingly simple real estate issues can become. If you require skilled legal services regarding residential or commercial real estate, or zoning, land and municipal laws, please contact one of our highly experienced attorneys at Ianniello Anderson. Serving clients throughout upper New York State, we can be reached at 518.350.7755.