After 4 Months of Turmoil Cataldo Reverses Parking Ban
by Russell Harris
On 10:23 a.m. on October 23, Groton’s Zoning Enforcement Officer Edward Cataldo sent John Reilly and Heather Rhodes of 50 Arrow Trail an email, effectively reversing his four-months-old order prohibiting them from parking their own cars on their own land. The email read in part, “After receiving information which proves that the lot in question has been in existence, and used for parking since 1946, it would be considered a grandfathered use and may continue to be used in such a manner.”
Despite feeling relief - with winter fast approaching - that they could again park near their home and not be forced to park miles away, Reilly and Rhodes said they were concerned that any town official could issue a personal parking ban in such an inconsistent and arbitrary way.
On Oct. 3, Reilly and Rhodes’ attorney had appeared before the ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeals] seeking to overturn that Zoning Officer Cataldo’s enforcement order, arguing that the ban was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ because he had granted another Lost Lake land owner permission to resume parking on his accessory lot after signatures were obtained saying six area people recognized the lot had been used for parking for many years.
Based on these signatures, Enforcement Officer Cataldo had allowed that owner to resume parking on their lot. Attorney Decristofaro said, “For all intents and purposes this situation is identical to the Reilly/Rhodes situation,” he said. Attorney Decristofaro asked, “Why is the Zoning Officer treating my client differently? How is that fair? This is beyond just a legal issue. This is an issue of fairness.”
Reilly said, “In our opinion, banning us from parking our own registered cars on our own property was an over-reach of zoning enforcement authority. Why didn’t Mr. Cataldo research the status of our lot before issuing the parking ban? Why wasn’t there any effort made to come up with a temporary solution allowing us to park there until our lot’s legal status was clear? Why was another homeowner allowed to park on their lot when we were not?”
Reilly continued, “Someone on the Planning Board said you need a car to live in Groton. So true. Cars are a necessity for living in this town. Instead of showing concern for the hardship that a parking ban would cause, Zoning
Officer Cataldo prohibited us from parking our own cars on our own land, based on an anonymous complaint, without a full and complete understanding of the legal status of our lot. We spent the last four months in turmoil dealing with this issue, trying to set the record straight, while spending lots of money on legal fees to overturn this parking ban and convince Mr. Cataldo and the Zoning Board of Appeals that our lot was grandfathered under state law.”
John Reilly continued, “Finally, after four months, Cataldo says we were right all along. It’s easy for him to reverse himself now, but not so easy for us to understand why he did it this way. It was an unfair process and just wrong. We were presumed guilty rather than innocent and we paid the price. This is the wrong way to enforce bylaws. It places all the burden and cost on the citizen, none on the government.”
Reilly went on to say that he and Rhodes were fortunate to have lots of community support, helping them deal with this difficult situation. But Reilly said that he worried what would happen to a resident without the same support resources. He said he was worried that such a person or couple could be permanently hurt.
John Reilly added, “We have witnessed this hypocrisy in our own neighborhood. Luckily for us, we fought back and could see the hypocrisy and inequity in the action brought against us. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people understand this and can see that this is an issue of fundamental rights. We have had a lot of friends and strangers offer their support to us in the last four months and to them we are extremely grateful!”
Summing up his views, he said, “The town needs to address this issue and, as we know, has promised to work towards a solution. Hopefully, some positive change will come as a result of the negative actions that we suffered through in the last four months.”
In the meantime, the Planning Board is in the early stages of drafting a bylaw to address the occasionally contentious issue of accessory lots. These lots are primarily located in Lost Lake, with some others in West Groton and in the Town Center. [See story in last week’s Groton Herald with headline "Planners Craft Restrictive Accessory Lot Bylaw."] Planning member Russell Burke acknowledged that there is lack of clarity in the zoning bylaws regarding accessory lots saying, “There are a lot of special Lost Lake quirks in the zoning bylaw already. Some of them are good and some of them are not so good.” He said that the Planning Board’s goal is to write a bylaw that can “be applied uniformly across the town that everybody can live with.”
It is important to note that the Reilly/Rhodes lot would not be governed by any new zoning bylaw because their lot is grandfathered under state law which supercedes local bylaws.