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Housing Plan Could Hit Snag

Meriden Developer Claims Development Rights For Nelton Court

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

November 14, 2007

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.

On Tuesday, the Hartford Housing Authority voted to do just that and to begin a $15 million project to relocate the project's residents, knock down the buildings, and construct new housing.

But there could be a snag, because while the authority has designs on the project, so does Meriden developer Salvatore Carabetta.

Citing a controversial 5-year-old deal he says was signed by the authority to give him development rights to much of the city's northern public housing stock, Carabetta in 2006 filed suit in state Superior Court saying he has the rights to develop Nelton Court. On Tuesday, his attorney made the argument again when contacted by The Courant.

"Any move by the housing authority to proceed with any other developer with regard to Nelton Court would be contrary to the rights of my clients," Carabetta's attorney, Dominc Aprile, said Tuesday.

Mark Ojakian, the authority's board chairman, said his agency isn't bound by that deal and can't afford to wait to redevelop Nelton Court until Carabetta's lawsuit is resolved. If it does, he said, it could lose $15 million in federal funding and keep residents waiting.

"This litigation, left to its own devices, could drag out for a couple years," Ojakian said. "So then we have $15 million that we've lost, and we're in a position where we're not able to do what's in the best interest of the people that live in that area of town."

The 2002 "memorandum of understanding" between Carabetta and the authority surfaced in 2006 amid allegations of corruption and bid-rigging brought by the authority's former executive director, Lancelot Gordon Jr.

After the agreement surfaced, Carabetta filed suit in state court to have it enforced. He said the disputed agreement between his company, SOC Group Inc., and the authority was a valid contract that gave him enforceable rights to modernize public housing in Hartford's northern half. Authority officials including former Executive Director John D. Wardlaw have long disavowed the agreement and said it is not binding.

Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to begin the process of redeveloping Nelton Court.

Ojakian said he doesn't support settling the suit with Carabetta, and neither does the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Meanwhile, the federal government has some firm deadlines by which the authority has to abide if it wants to keep the $15 million it wants to use to redevelop Nelton Court. The money must be "committed" by the fall of 2009, and spent by 2011, he said.

"I don't want to lose that money," Ojakian said.

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