Commission Rejects Mario’s Restaurant Zone Change

Mario Testa
Mario Testa in front of his former restaurant on Madison Avenue. Several years ago he renovated the old Three Door Restaurant for his current location where he sought a zone change in a residential area.

UPDATE: In what State Rep. Chris Caruso called a win for the neighborhood, the Planning & Zoning Commission Monday night denied Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa’s application for a zone change for his Madison Avenue restaurant. The restaurant is located in the heart of a residential area and Mario sought permission to change the zoning designation to Office Retail.

In a meeting that lasted almost to midnight, the Big Wave joined roughly 50 North End neighbors opposed to the application. Mario’s had a running battle with some North End neighbors over traffic and improvements since he transformed the old Three Door Restaurant several years ago. Veteran land use Attorney Chuck Willinger represented Mario before the commission and delivered a one-hour presentation. Testa needed five yes votes for application approval and came up one short. Commissioners Joe Tiago, Anne Phillips, Tom Fedele and Mel Riley voted yes. Commissioners Carl Kish, Robert Morton and Reggie Walker voted no.

Attorney Michael Voytek presented the legal basis to reject the application. State Rep. Jack Hennessy also spoke against the zone change as well as dozens of residents near the restaurant.



  1. The history of the real estate parcel in question, as I understand it:

    The Three Door was located in the South End and got blown out of there by highway development (either the turnpike or 25/8, I think the latter).

    The state was looking for a place to relocate the restaurant. There was a gas station at the Madison Avenue location that predated zoning. The new Three Door was stuffed into the site despite the area being residential because the site was already commercial. The residential area raised a ruckus. They lost. This was sometime in the 1960s.

    Does this matter 50 years later when someone wants to change zoning in the area?

    1. So the State looks to localities to regularly update their Master Plans. Bridgeport went through such a review process and then adjusted the Zoning designations and regulations to that Master Plan. What has changed in the past 24 months or so, since the ink was fresh on the “new” Master Plan? I am sure there is a response from legal counsel, the best answer money can possibly buy, but will it be persuasive with neighbors with whom other disputes have surfaced in recent years?
      Zoning waivers are provided for in the statutes when there is a “hardship” suffered by the nature of the physical property. Perhaps that looks like an empty avenue of inquiry because there would be no “hardship” provable in this instance. However, it will be interesting to hear the rationale for further commercial development in a residential area. It would seem to spread spot zoning. Perhaps the answer lies in what it would do to neighbor values? For instance, will the value of the ORS designation to the party pleading for the zone change be built on immediately and therefore show up on the taxable Grand List, or will it be granted and lay fallow for a few years, depressing the values of abutting homeowners if or when they go to sell their homes, but ultimately being realized by someone who gets the change and then sells out. Bad deal for neighbors who will have tough time convincing assessor’s office of lower home values until they sell. Bad deal for the City in that postponing actual taxable development does nothing for the Grand List. Good deal for the property owner who creates more ultimate value for himself when he ultimately sells out, or leases out future developments. Tell me this is not how it works. And what is the problem with looking at the economic reality for each of the parties? A win for Willinger and the owner does nothing good for the neighbors or City finances, does it?

      1. BEACON2 // Nov 29, 2010 at 2:44 pm
        Responding to your posting

        You raise a good question … but since we know already this is probably “how it works,” we therefore know at the same time that it is not the good of the City that this restaurant owner has in mind …
        Like most of the members in this (self-service only) category of take-take-take, this guy’s vision extends no further than his hand or his wallet. In the final analysis, when you look at this request specifically, who is going to say “no” to Mario?

          1. town committee // Nov 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm
            responding to your posting

            I say well done to those who have endured, and with the help of Chris Caruso, the neighbors have been able to secure a finding that is as right as it is fair.

            So the answer is that three P&Z members said “no” and for the moment … that was enough.

            TC, I know you already have realized that when I worked every day with John Gomes in the CitiStat Department, there was plenty of opportunity to see the kind of person he is … and measure that against my own set of values.

            So it’s without a doubt that we are both in agreement with the P&Z action … and pleasantly surprised.

            Perhaps possible other actions that benefit the community and not the “specially favored” can continue to occur.

            There I go … oops

  2. I’m sure Mario won’t show up. He’ll let Willinger do his dirty work. Too bad. Sure would be fun to see the look on Mario’s face when Chris Caruso kicks his ass. Verbally I mean.


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