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Groton wants $12,500 in fines from Spicer Mansion

The onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic brought a generous offer from Spicer Mansion in Mystic, which at the end of April began making and delivering three meals a day for residents of the young adults homeless shelter run by Noank Community Support Services.

The pandemic also has delayed but certainly hasn't stopped attempts by the town to collect zoning enforcement fines against Spicer Mansion or a foreclosure by Chelsea Groton Bank, which says the business is in default on a $1.7 million loan.

After The Day wrote about the generous Spicer Mansion meals service for the shelter, I soon heard from some of the people in town angry about the zoning violations that the town contends in a Superior Court lawsuit have been continuing and brazen for years.

Indeed, because of the pandemic shutdown, a judge in March delayed going forward on a motion by the town to order the hotel to immediately pay $12,500 in fines and submit to a new enforcement program that could impose new fines of $5,000 a day for each new violation.

Among the many zoning complaints by the town is that the eight-room hotel runs a restaurant and basement "speakeasy" bar open to people who are not renting rooms, a violation of the approvals granted in 2015.

The order, if approved as proposed by the town, would circumvent the hotel's appeals process through town boards and allow the court henceforth to rule directly and impose fines on new alleged violations.

As Superior Court begins to stir to life in a new reopening phase of the pandemic, a judge also will consider a pending motion by Chelsea Groton for a summary judgment against the mansion owners on its foreclosure lawsuit. The motion was filed May 13.

Mansion owner Brian Gates said in November, not long after the foreclosure lawsuit was filed, that it was already resolved. But of course it has gone grinding on, right into the pandemic.

Gates also said in November that the resolution of the town's lawsuit to enforce zoning laws was "imminent." The town filed its first proposed order requesting fines and a new enforcement program the next month.

At the time Gates told The Day the resolution was imminent, the lawyer representing him in the lawsuit already had obtained permission from the court to withdraw from the case.

"The undersigned has asked the defendant to contact him to discuss various matters relating to the ongoing litigation and court filings," attorney Michael Bonnano wrote in his motion for court permission to withdraw his representation of the Spicer Mansion owners. "Until yesterday, over the course of several weeks, Mr. Gates has failed and/or refused to respond to the undersigned's multiple email communications and voicemails to discuss such matters."

No new lawyer has signed on for the defense, as the court prepares to take up the town's motion for an order to give it new teeth for zoning enforcement.

The 14-page motion lays out a long history of what the town characterizes as repeated and knowing violations of zoning rules and orders.

The town asserts, for instance, that Gates signed sworn affidavits acknowledging the provisions of zoning approvals that he later violated. The violations continued despite what the motion says were "numerous efforts by (the town) to intervene early and to warn the defendant against conducting illegal activities ..."

I'm glad for the hotel's generosity during the pandemic. The shelter program director told me last week the delicious meals have been reliably delivered each day.

However, it appears a reckoning for the boutique inn and the restaurant, which the town says is running illegally when it serves nonhotel guests, is at hand in Superior Court.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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