Graham v. Houlihan

Citation160 A.2d 745,147 Conn. 321
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date10 May 1960
PartiesFred J. GRAHAM et al. v. James P. HOULIHAN et al. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

Milton Sorokin, Hartford, with whom was Ethel S. Sorokin, Hartford, for appellant (named plaintiff).

John A. Mettling, Torrington, with whom were Robert P. Burns, Torrington, and, on the brief, John A. Speziale, James B. Lefebre, Salvatore A. DiGiorgio and Paul Smith, City Attorney, Torrington, for appellees (defendants).


BALDWIN, Chief Justice.

This is an action for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief brought in February, 1958, by the named plaintiff against the city of Torrington, the redevelopment agency of that city, and the individual members of the agency. The named plaintiff is the owner of real estate located within an area designated for redevelopment. Other property owners intervened as coplaintiffs. The named plaintiff, hereinafter called the plaintiff, claims that the action of the redevelopment agency in establishing the redevelopment area is invalid and unconstitutional so far as it concerns his property, because: (1) the agency acted arbitrarily, unreasonably and illegally in finding that the area was a 'redevelopment area' within the scope of chapter 55 of the 1949 Revision (as amended, General Statutes, c. 130); and (2) the hearing held by the agency was in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the federal constitution and article first, § 12, of the constitution of this state. He also assigns error in the denial of his motions for disclosure of facts and documents and in two rulings on evidence.

The facts may be stated in summary as follows: Torrington is situated in a relatively narrow valley through which the Naugatuck River flows. After the disastrous flood of August 19, 1955, the Torrington planning commission selected several sites, among them the one involved in this case, which because of the flood and other conditions were believed to be arresting the sound growth of the city. The purpose of the selection was to plan protection against future flooding; improvement of highway circulation and traffic regulation and control; provision for needed off-street parking areas; and betterment of business conditions in the city. Torrington established a redevelopment agency in October, 1955. Thereafter, the agency designated the area which includes the plaintiff's property as the one to be redeveloped. In January, 1956, the agency employed, as consultants, a firm of professional city planners to survey the area and prepare a plan for consideration by the agency. The area embraces 11.48 acres exclusive of public streets. It adjoins the central business district of the city and is bordered on the north and east by the Naugatuck River; on the south by Fuessenich Park, which includes a baseball field, a gridiron, concrete tennis courts, a playground and a field house; and on the west by Coe Memorial Park and private properties. The area is traversed by two main arteries of traffic, South Main Street and Litchfield Street. Of the 78 buildings involved, 68 are chiefly residential, containing units for 155 families, and 10 are commercial. Some are used for both residential and commercial purposes. The residences are for the most part built close together on small lots. Many of them--single and two- and three- family houses--are poorly laid out and without central heating and adequate plumbing facilities. They are generally substandard and deteriorated. Of the structures in the area, 61.5 per cent are in need of major repairs, and 33 per cent of minor repairs. In the 1955 flood, the first floors of 70 per cent of these buildings were under water, and the buildings are vulnerable to future flooding; 61.5 per cent are substandard. Four hundred and ten persons in 145 family units live in the area; seventy-one of the families have incomes of $3999 or less. The existing street system is inadequate. The area presents a fire hazard. There have been infrequent property transfers within the neighborhood in recent years.

In May, 1956, the consultants submitted a preliminary project report which the agency caused to be published in serial form in the newspapers. This report did not show, out of deference to the owners, what buildings in the area had been classified as substandard, although this information was provided later. The agency held a number of public meetings in the city hall and in the redevelopment area. At these meetings the preliminary project report was made available; copies were also on file in the agency office in the city hall. On October 16, 1956, the report was approved by the agency, and in April 1957, the consultants submitted a final project report. This report was published in May, 1957, and was on file in the agency's office in the city hall until October of that year. During this time, an extensive program to publicize the plan was conducted. On October 7, 1957, the voters of the city approved the expenditure of public funds to carry out the plan by a vote of more than two to one. A public hearing on the final project report was held on October 10, 1957, following due notice in the public press. Certain interested persons, including a representative of the plaintiff, appeared at these hearings and spoke in opposition to the plan. The plaintiff's representative was heard without interruption. He offered no evidence and did not examine or cross-examine any witnesses. The hearing was held open by the agency until October 15, 1957, for the reception of any further pertinent information, but the plaintiff did not, during this period, offer anything further. Following the hearing, the agency met several times in executive session, considered the preliminary and final project reports in detail, personally inspected the area, and, on October 28, 1957, unanimously concluded that it was a redevelopment area and adopted the redevelopment plan. The declaration of findings by the agency and its resolution approving the plan were made a part of the finding by the court. The city council also made a finding on October 28, 1957, that the area was a redevelopment area.

The plaintiff has asked for the incorporation in the finding of many of the paragraphs in his draft finding and for the elimination from the finding of many of the facts found. No corrections can be made which would advantage him. Practice Book, § 397; Maltbie, Conn.App.Proc. §§ 156, 158.

We shall consider first the plaintiff's claim that the agency acted arbitrarily, unreasonably and illegally in finding that the area was a redevelopment area, and that the trial court erred in sustaining the agency. The plaintiff argues that the main purpose of redevelopment is the 'elimination of slums and blighted areas which rankle the soundness and security of urban communities.' He urges that the area is not a slum, is not beyond the remedy and control of regulatory legislation, does not require the expenditure of an excessive and disproportionate amount of public funds, and is not a social and economic liability arresting the sound growth of the city. It may well be, as he claims, and as the court has in part found, that the area is not a slum, which is usually thought of as an unsightly, insanitary neighborhood of ramshackle, vacant buildings, and bad housing accommodations, a breeder of social problems that overtax the facilities of welfare agencies and police. The court found that the area was not shown to have a juvenile delinquency, vice, crime or welfare problem which called for a disproportionate expenditure of public funds for police and fire protection or welfare services.

The declaration of public policy in the statute is, however, a broad one. Nov. 1955 Sup., § N30 (as amended, General Statutes § 8-124). It states, in part, that 'there have existed and will continue to exist in the future in municipalities * * * substandard, insanitary, deteriorated, slum or blighted areas which constitute a serious and growing menace, injurious and inimical to the public health, safety, morals and welfare of the residents of the state; that * * * the existence of such areas constitutes an economic and social liability, [and] substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of municipalities * * *; [and] that this meance * * * cannot be dealt with effectively by * * * private enterprise without the aids' provided in the statute. The act defines a redevelopment area as 'an area within the state which is deteriorated, substandard or detrimental to the safety, health, morals or welfare of the community. An area may consist partly or wholly of vacant or unimproved land or of land with structures and improvements thereon, and may include structures not in themselves substandard or insanitary which are found to be essential to complete an adequate unit of development, [if] the redevelopment area is deteriorated, substandard or detrimental.' Cum.Sup.1955, § 484d(b) (as amended, General Statutes § 8-125[b]). While it cannot control the decision of this case, it is interesting to note, as we consider the legislative intent expressed in the act, that in 1959 the General Assembly amended both of the quoted sections by inserting the word 'deteriorating' after the word 'deteriorated' wherever it appeared. Public Acts 1959, No. 397, §§ 1, 2. This is an indication of an intent that the sections are to be liberally construed within the broad language they contain.

We have held the Redevelopment Act constitutional. Gohld Realty Co. v. Hartford, 141 Conn. 135, 147, 104 A.2d 365; see Bahr Corporation v. O'Brion, 146 Conn. 237, 247, 149 A.2d 691; note 44 A.L.R.2d 1414, 1420, & A.L.R.2d Sup.Serv. The question is whether the agency purporting to act under the declaration of policy and definition stated in the act abused or exceeded its powers. The determination of what constitutes a redevelopment area and what...

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