East Windsor casino subject of lawsuit over zoning permit, site plan

Having finally secured the last federal approval they needed for their East Windsor casino project, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes on Monday withdrew a lawsuit they and the state of Connecticut had been pursuing against the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The suit sought to compel action on the tribes’ amended gaming agreements with the state, action the Interior Department officially took Monday by publishing notice in the Federal Register of its approval of the Mashantuckets’ amendments. The department had approved the Mohegans’ amendment last year.

A much lesser-known legal dispute related to the East Windsor project still appears on the docket in Superior Court in Hartford.

In a claim lodged last July, the owner of a retail area located across the street from the casino site appealed the East Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission's approvals of a special permit and a site plan for the project. Oral arguments in the case, which names as defendants the commission and the tribes’ partnership, MMCT Venture, are scheduled for June 5.

Sofia’s Plazas LLC, a family company, alleges that the commission failed to properly notify abutting property owners of a public hearing on the permit application and failed to indicate in a legal notice that alcohol would be served at the casino. The corporation also claims that MMCT’s development agreement with the town constitutes illegal “contract zoning,” defined as a process in which a local government "extracts a performance or promise from the developer in exchange for its agreement to rezone the property ..."

The tribes have agreed to pay the town an estimated $5.5 million a year in property taxes and another $3 million annually in payments aimed at offsetting the casino-related costs the town incurs.

“Although the applicant here did not contract directly with the planning and zoning commission, the enormous financial incentives offered by the applicant colored the processing of the applications at every stage of the proceedings in favor of approval,” Sofia’s Plazas asserts in a court brief.

The plaintiff’s attorney, David Sherwood, plans to depose the former town planner who held office when the approvals were granted.

“Sofia’s Plazas’ primary concern is the adverse effect the casino will have on the ease of access to their property,” Sherwood said by phone Monday. 

Robert Maynard, the East Windsor first selectman, called the upcoming deposition “a fishing expedition.”

“It’s not much of a case,” he said. “We’re not too concerned about it.”

Maynard said the Interior Department’s announcement last week that it had approved the Mashantuckets’ gaming amendment took the town by surprise.

“Because it was so sudden, the town and MMCT haven’t conferred yet,” he said. “The ball’s in MMCT’s court.”

MMCT still has to seek a building permit, starting a time-consuming process that will involve a public hearing and the filing of detailed plans for the casino project, according to Maynard.

The 188,000-square-foot casino, dubbed Tribal Winds, and a five-story parking garage will be built on 28 acres off Exit 45 of Interstate 91. The tribes have said it will take 18 to 24 months to finish construction.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

Editor's Note: The Sofia's Plazas appeal need not be resolved before casino construction can begin. Information was incorrect in an earlier version.

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